From Fourth International, vol.5 No.10, October 1944, pp.324-326.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.
The second imperialist world war has been the governing factor in the Indian situation in a very direct sense, especially since the entry of Japan into the war. On the one hand, there has been a readily discernible correlation between the major developments in the military situation internationally and the main developments in the political situation in India. On the other hand, the general development of the military situation – adversely to Anglo-American imperialism for a long period, and favorably thereafter – has had a direct bearing, though with a greater time lag than in the case of the political situation, on the rate of deterioration of India’s economic condition.
The most dramatic and significant event in India during the last year was the Bengal famine, which wiped out several millions of landless and the poor sections of the peasantry. It was the tragic culmination of that accelerating process of which inflation and the denudation of the country of essential food supplies were the most marked features – by which British imperialism transferred onto the backs of the always poverty-stricken Indian masses an intolerable proportion of the burden of its war effort in North Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia. It was the dramatic highlight of an All-India food shortage which, worsened as it was by maladministration and maldistribution, led to actual famine conditions also in Malabar, Orissa, Kashmir, Andhra (ceded districts) and certain smaller areas; and extreme stringency in every province save the surplus producing provinces like the Punjab and Sind. It was the measure, in terms of actual human suffering of the intolerable “sacrifices” imposed by a steadily weakening British imperialism on the one major area of imperialist exploitation, outside Africa, which is still left in its unchallenged control. And it was the mark of the extreme economic dislocation (reflected in the tremendous growth of hoarding and of the black market) and administrative disorganization (leading to actual breakdown in Bengal) which accompanied the feverish process of rapidly and heartlessly transforming India’s economy into a war economy, subserving the military needs of British imperialism.
During the last year too, the process of transforming India’s economy into a war economy has continued to go forward. But the pace has slackened both by reason of the fact that the process itself. Famine among the peasantry and a wide-spread any attempt to advance the process much further without consolidating the advances already made would have imperilled the process itself. Famine among the peasantry and a wide spread series of short-lived strikes among the workers in connection with the intolerable shortage – amounting to scarcity generally and an absolute lack of supplies frequently – of elementary consumer’s commodities drove the government to a series of measures which, coupled with certain facilities for importation that the turn in the military situation provided, enabled it belatedly, from the beginning of 1944, to arrest the catastrophic rate of deterioration which threatened India with economic collapse. The inflationary process has been considerably slowed down, though not completely arrested (the paper currency is being added to still by one to two crores a week).
Food and other elementary articles of consumption are being more effectively distributed, if even at bare subsistence level, through more wide-spread rationing in the principal cities and towns. A more general, if yet considerably ineffective, system of price control has helped to arrest somewhat the upward flight of prices of a fair range of articles of civilian consumption. At the same time, an increase in imports, primarily of grain as also of certain articles of civilian consumption, coupled with the sharp reduction (as a -result of the Anglo-American victory in North Africa) of the need for supplying the Middle East, has increased the actual quantity of supplies available and so has helped to ease the scarcity of these commodities. The general economic and administrative dislocation consequent on the rapid transition from a peacetime to a war-time economy has thus been substantially reduced, although it still continues to prevail in important ways in various areas of the country (of which Bengal is still the chief) and in various branches of the economy (e.g, coal). The prospect of a deteriorating economic situation leading rapidly to the precipitation of mass struggles, a prospect which seemed immediate in the middle of 1943, has thus receded in the course of 1944; and there is no reason to anticipate a sharp change in this respect in the period immediately ahead.
The ever-increasing burden of the intensified war effort falls on the backs of the masses. The acute shortage of necessities, resulting from the diversion of goods from civilian to military consumption, continues, although there has been some little easing of the situation in this respect. Moreover, although the inflationary process has been retarded and therewith also the steep rise in the cost of living, the retardation itself has been at the point of such a fall in the currency value (the rupee is worth only five annas today) and of such a rise in the price level (the price index is treble the pre-war) as to represent no improvement in the condition of the masses, but merely a retardation in that rate of deterioration which had already brought broad strata of the population to the point of utter destitution. Rationing cannot bring food to the pauperized; nor price control, supplies which are not available. Despite various half-hearted government measures, therefore, the black market continues to flourish, as also hoarding, speculation and profiteering – and will continue to flourish so long as the scarcity and uncertainty induced by war continue to exist. As British imperialism, weakened by war, intensifies its exploitation, the already pauperized strata of the masses either fall into beggary or literally perish.
The conditions summarized above have struck the urban petty bourgeoisie with devastating force. Many petty traders are no doubt flourishing, and there has also been a relative increase in the volume of middle-class employment, particularly in the civil and military administrative departments of government. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the standards of living among the urban petty bourgeoisie have been shattered and the process of their pauperization accelerated. The objective conditions are thus driving this stratum onto the revolutionary road as was demonstrated during the “August struggle” (1942) in which they, and in particular the students, were everywhere in the forefront. Their subjective attitude has, however, undergone a transformation since that period. The utter defeat of the struggle has demoralized them completely and save for a thin stratum whose political consciousness is highly developed, they have turned their backs temporarily to politics.
The overwhelming majority of the peasantry has not reaped the benefits of the increase in the price of agricultural prod. ucts The main weight of the war burden has indeed fallen on the poor and landless peasants, that is to say, the section of the population least able to bear it. Caught in the “scissors” of well-nigh stable, if somewhat increased, agricultural prices, and steeply rising prices of industrial products, the poor and landless strata of the peasantry, as also the lower sections of the middle peasantry, have been driven to destitution, starvation and misery. Even in the famine areas, where food prices soared to 10-25 times the pre-war level it is the upper strata of the peasantry, especially the rich, who have benefited from the rise in prices of agricultural products. As a result of these various factors there has been a sharpening of the differentiation among the peasantry. The poor and lower-middle peasantry have had to sell their lands to the upper-middle and rich peasants and traders, not only in famine stricken Bengal but also, for instance, in agriculturally prosperous Sind, on such a scale that legislation had to be introduced in these provinces in an endeavor, which would be vain even if it were not deceitful, to arrest the process. Objective conditions are thus driving the poor and landless peasantry to the revolutionary solution of their problems; but their conditions today are so sub-human as to deprive them of even the power of action, let alone the will to it. The starving cannot fight – any more than the overfed. It is to the middle peasant that we must at this stage look for political action – as was demonstrated during the “August struggle” which, in the areas where the peasantry moved into action, drew in largely this section of the peasantry. Here too, however, the crushing of the August struggle has led to general demoralization. Other processes must intervene before the peasantry will move again.
The working class has been directly affected by the increase in prices and the shortage of necessities, but not to an extent that is comparable with that of the urban petty bourgeoisie. For this fact there is a two-fold reason. In the first place, the fall in real wages, which has only been partially offset by the dearness allowance, has been compensated for in a real sense by the increase in aggregate family earnings. Industrial employment has increased sharply and steadily during the war; the volume of general working class employment has probably doubled. Most adult members of working class families are therefore today in active employment.
Secondly, the government, interested as it is in uninterrupted war production and anxious as it is to avoid general working class unrest which might well be a prelude to another mass uprising, has followed a deliberate policy of appeasing the industrial proletariat by providing to them, though often tardily, minimum supplies of elementary necessities at controlled prices. Grain shops, later extended steadily to other necessities, have been opened in the principal factories and workshops, and the government has given to supplying these a priority which aims at preventing either unduly prolonged or excessively acute shortages. Coupled as this policy has been with prompt suppression of every kind of militancy (arrest of strike leaders, etc.); and aided as British imperialism has been by the traitorous support of the trade union bureaucracy and the Stalinists, who everywhere act openly as British imperialism’s agencies within the working class, the government has succeeded in avoiding general or prolonged working class action.
Sporadic economic struggles, principally on the food, dearness allowance and bonus questions, have, however, taken place in every industrial area, and the total of workers involved in these struggles during the nine months following November 1942 reached a very high figure. Moreover these struggles have generally been short and of a protest character. Hence their failure to develop into a connected or systematic series of integrated struggles on some general issue like the food, dearness allowance or bonus questions, on which working class feeling is certainly wide-spread if not very deep-going. At the same time, they have paved the way to certain concessions on these very issues and have served to show that although the demoralization consequent on the August defeat has had some influence on the working class, nevertheless the prevailing demoralization among the petty bourgeois masses has not also caught up the working class decisively in its sweep. The reason for this mainly is that the working class as a whole, although it was sympathetic, did not go into militant action (save in certain isolated cases, e.g., Tata, Nagar) during the August struggle. This fact was no doubt the principal cause of the August defeat; but it has at the same time prevented that defeat from exercising a deep-going influence on the working class outlook and attitude to struggle. Thus, the working class is certainly not quiescent: it is even restless. But the restlessness does not as yet go so deep as to lead to the determined action which is necessary today even in partial economic struggles, since even these tend to rise rapidly, in war-time conditions, to the political plane. With the temporary easing of the economic situation, there is no immediate prospect of deep-going working class struggle, unless other processes, which cannot be concretely anticipated, intervene to change the situation.
The Indian bourgeoisie and landlords have amassed and – despite the excess profits tax and the increase in the tax on income and government’s largely ineffective anti-black market measures – are continuing to amass vast profits due to the war. But this increase in their capital resources does not reflect itself in anything like a corresponding rate of industrial expansion. Although the exigencies of war have compelled British imperialism to permit a certain expansion in some branches of industry to subserve war needs, this expansion does not correspond even to its military requirements. The long term interests of British finance capital stand in the way of permitting any significant expansion of Indian industry. Consequently the government deliberately prevents any such development through the use of such instruments as control of the flotations of companies, forced loans, the excess profits tax, the setting up of monopolistic corporations of a semi-government nature, limitations on trade, blocking of supplies either directly or by denial of transport facilities, exchange control, importation of consumers’ goods which Indian industry can now well supply instead of capital goods which Indian industry badly needs, etc., etc.
The attitude of the Indian bourgeoisie to British imperialism during this war has largely been governed by their estimate of the military situation. This is best demonstrated by the developments in the war time policy of the political party of the Indian bourgeoisie, the Indian National Congress.
The outbreak of the war found Congress in office in 7 out of the 12 provinces of India. These Congress Governments which had gone into office in 1937 on the declared policy of breaking the Constitution from within, found themselves caught up instead in the steel frame of the imperialist administration, and were seen not unwillingly working this very Constitution in active cooperation with the Viceroy, Governors and the Civil Service. Congress policy in office, if a little less reactionary in many respects than that of imperialism’s own administrations in the past (concessions to the peasantry, release of political prisoners, etc.), proved in essentials to be no different from that of imperialism itself, particularly in relation to the working class.
In Bombay, Madras and the United Provinces (Cawnpore), the Congress Governments showed no hesitation in shooting down strikers; and the Bombay government introduced and rapidly passed, despite organized working class opposition, a reactionary trade union bill which struck directly at the fundamental working class right to strike. There can be no doubt that these bitter memories played a part in determining the working class attitude to the August struggle, which, though spontaneous, was conducted uniformly in the name of the Indian National Congress.
The outbreak of the war therefore found the Congress Governments, and therewith Congress itself, considerably stripped of prestige and decreasing in mass influence. It also found these governments in an impasse. With their limited powers and limited finances, they found themselves unable to go forward with even the mildly liberal measures that they knew were necessary to lull the masses. Instead they found themselves engaged substantially in the day-to-day administration of a regime they were supposed to oppose.
The war gave the Congress High Command a way out of the developing impasse. Acting on the plea that India had been dragged into the war unconsulted – which, of course, was true, but not surprising – he High Command ordered the Congress Governments to relinquish the reins of office; which they did, with varying degrees of reluctance and delay, taking every care to smooth the way for direct administration by the British imperialists.
Having thus gained the necessary freedom of maneuver, the Congress High Command set about implementing the Indian bourgeoisie’s war aim, viz., the utilization of the wartime difficulties of British imperialism with a view to improving their own position within the partnership of British Imperialism & Co., by calling on British imperialism to define its war aims, particularly in relation to India. It was a maneuver designed to evoke a statement of British imperialism’s bargaining terms. The British imperialists easily countered the maneuver with – platitudes.
Congress was therefore forced to come out with a statement of its terms. This it did in July 1940 by a resolution passed at the Poona meeting of the AICC. By this resolution admittedly influenced by the German victories in Europe, Congress offered cooperation on condition of an unequivocal declaration of India’s independence and the formation of a National Government at the center. Preparatory to this demand, and as a demonstration of Congress sincerity in its offer to support the war, Mahatma Gandhi, proclaimed pacifist, was relieved of the leadership of Congress. To the Poona offer of Congress, the only reply given by British imperialism through the mouth of Viceroy Linlithgow (in August 1940) was an offer to expand the Viceroy’s Executive Council and a haughty reiteration of Britain’s determination to remain in power in India on the plea of its self-imposed role of “protector” of “minority interests."
In this situation Congress was compelled to look for means of bringing pressure to bear on her recalcitrant partner. Here Congress came up against a difficulty. It is important to note that whether at this stage or later, Congress never characterized the war as imperialist and the Congress leaders openly declared their sympathy with the Allied powers. The Congress had therefore to seek a way of going into opposition in a way that would not embarrass the British war effort. The solution to this problem was found, as was to be expected, by Mahatma Gandhi.
The solution was – “individual satyagraha.” It was designed expressly to prevent mass action and any embarrassment of the war effort. Chosen Congressmen from October 1940 onwards went out to shout slogans after informing the authorities of their intention. They were, of course, promptly arrested. Nevertheless, the policy was continued till December 1941 when it was allowed to die off after the release of all satyagrahi prisoners from jail. Congress was searching for another move – when Pearl Harbor intervened.
The rapid advance of the Japanese through the Pacific regions and to the very gate of India transformed the political situation in India. The prestige of British imperialism was severely shaken; the sense of unshakable British power was undermined. The mass needs rose; and with it the bourgeois sense of opportunity. Proportionately British imperialism’s former need of intractability also visibly softened. It sought a settlement with Congress as a means of consolidating itself.
This was the background of the Cripps mission. Although the Cripps proposals were in form an offer of “Dominion Status” after the war, they were in fact hedged about with conditions which made the offer itself unreal. In particular, it was made a condition precedent to any “transfer of power” that a treaty be signed which “will cover all necessary matters arising out of the complete transfer of responsibility from British to Indian hands ... (and) will make provision, in accordance with the undertakings given by His Majesty’s Government, for the protection of racial and religious minorities.”
Under this vague and far-reaching clause, British imperialism retained a maneuvering power which would enable it to insist on almost any terms it chose to impose, and even to find a way out of the proposal altogether. Further, no change whatsoever in India’s status was contemplated during the war. On the contrary although “leaders of the principal sections of the Indian people” were to be invited to participate in “the counsels of their country,” this was no different from the former offer of an expanded Viceroy’s Executive Council, inasmuch as the Council continued to be advisory and the Viceroy’s powers remained as absolute as ever. On this question of the Viceroy’s powers the Cripps negotiations with Congress broke down.
The real reason for the failure of the negotiations, however, was the sharp change that had taken place in the military situation. The threat of the application of a “scorched earth policy” in the case of the expected Japanese invasion had caused important sections of the Indian big bourgeoisie to take a sharp leftward turn. Further, Japan’s advance had not merely hardened the attitude of the Indian bourgeoisie towards British imperialism but radically changed it. Contemplating the possibility of a successful Japanese invasion of India, the Indian bourgeoisie began to consider the possibility not merely of altering the terms of their partnership with British imperialism but even of changing partners; i.e., the possibility of Japanese imperialism replacing the British. In other words, the bourgeoisie were preparing to climb the fence so as to be in a position to decide which way to jump at the proper time.
Thereafter events moved swiftly. The Congress Working Committee met in July and announced its current terms for a settlement with British imperialism. These were “withdrawal of British rule in India” immediately and the negotiation of a treaty between “free India” and Great Britain “for the adjustment of future relations and for the cooperation of the two countries as allies in the common task of meeting aggression.” Coupled with these terms, however, there was, for the first time, the open threat of a non-violent mass struggle in case they were not granted. An AICC meeting was called for August to endorse this decision. Congress had moved with the worsening military situation for Britain from conditional support to open opposition. The next move lay with British imperialism.
British imperialism’s answer was categorical and dramatic – not words, but action. On the very morning after the AICC session of August 8th at Bombay, where Congress authorized mass action under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership as a means to forcing British imperialism to accept the Congress terms, the government struck at Congress with a wide-spread series of simultaneous arrests which completely paralyzed the Congress organization.
Government’s action evoked an unexpectedly prompt widespread and violent mass response, namely, the mass uprising which began on August 9, 1942. This uprising had the character of a spontaneous rebellion against the British power. It is important to note, however, on the one hand, that it did not draw in important provinces like the Punjab at all; and, on the other, that save in certain areas like North Bihar, Eastern UP, Orissa and Midnapore district, the upsurge never went beyond the proportions of a violent demonstration. This derived from the perspectives which the bourgeoisie themselves had set before the masses through the Congress generally and Mahatma Gandhi in particular. These perspectives were exactly comprised in the latter’s slogan, “Quit India,” which was more an invitation to the British to quit than a call to the masses to drive them out. In other words, the Congress perspective was not the overthrow of imperialist rule and the seizure of power, but at the most, the paralyzing of the government administration as a means of bringing about an agreed devolution of power.
This analysis of the Congress perspectives in August is in no way invalidated by the Gandhian slogan of August 8, viz., “Do or Die.” Read in the context of non-violent action and “open” rebellion in which Mahatma Gandhi put it forward, the “Do or Die” slogan was itself not a call for an organized mass onslaught on British imperialist power but for individual action of an anarchist type – let each man consider himself free and act as if he were free; that was Gandhi’s own advice.
The basic reason for the August movement not outstripping in any significant manner the bounds of the bourgeois perspectives was the failure of the working class to move into militant class action on a decisive scale. This failure was due principally to the absence of a revolutionary working class party to lead the workers. No doubt the Communist Party acted as a brake upon the working class. And no doubt there was working class suspicion of the bourgeois leadership, particularly in Bombay. But in view of the fact that the working class did demonstrate its solidarity by an actual widespread stoppage of work, there can be little doubt that they would have gone into militant action had there existed a working class party to provide it with an alternative and militant leadership. As it was, with the lack of militant working class participation, the movement was bound to fail.
It failed disastrously. The movement was violent but government met it with a himalayan display of organized violence unexampled in India since the great Mutiny of 1857. The movement rose in places to revolutionary heights, e.g., Bihar; where little statelets were actually thrown up for little periods like foam on the crest of a rapidly advancing wave. And the very height to which the struggle arose resulted, in complete defeat, in the depth of the subsequent fall. Above all, the petty bourgeois who led and the petty bourgeoist who fought – it was mainly a petty bourgeois uprising – lacking the leadership of the working class with its consistent revolutionary perspectives, and bound by the bourgeois perspective of “pressure politics” as distinct from revolutionary politics, bound up, that is to say, by a narrow horizon of violent action without clear revolutionary aim, fell away from the struggle on its defeat, nonplussed and confused. Passing from a sense of frustration to a feeling of futility, he fell away ultimately not only from the struggle but from politics itself. In other words, the petty bourgeoisie became generally demoralized.
Meantime the bourgeoisie have once more changed front. Hard on the heels of the collapse of the mass struggle has come also a sharp turn in the military situation. The Japanese, are, no doubt, still at the gates of India, but they are no longer knocking on them. The Germans have been pushed from El Alamein and Stalingrad right across North Africa on the one side and Russia on the other, back into “Festung Europa.” Russia is nearing the Eastern borders of Germany. The Anglo-American armies have landed and advanced in Italy and landed and consolidated a bridgehead in Normandy. Away in the Pacific, Japan is being pushed from her outer island screen back onto her first line of inner defenses. Everywhere the Axis is on the defensive and in retreat; and Anglo-American imperialism, conscious of its overwhelming power, looks triumphantly forward to victory and unchallenged world-domination.
The Indian bourgeoisie have reacted rapidly to this change in the military situation favorable to British imperialism. They have come down once more from the fence they climbed, come down on the side of Anglo-American imperialism. Though they still cast covert glances in the direction of the American imperialists (they have long appealed to Roosevelt to solve the political “deadlock” in India) they have for the present at least plainly decided to throw in their lot openly once more with British imperialism. Hucksters that they are, however, they still look round to see whether some little concession cannot be salvaged from the wreckage of the 1942 hopes.
The first sign of this turn in the bourgeois attitude came in fact during the August struggle itself. Scared by the violence of the masses, they quickly tightened the purse-strings of Congress on the receipt of a private government assurance that the “scorched earth” policy would not be applied to India in case of a Japanese advance. The open signs of the change in the bourgeois attitude came later, however, in the form of a vociferous press campaign for a resolution of the political “deadlock.” This was in fact, a demand that imperialism itself should take the initiative in restarting negotiations with the very Congress it had just smashed, as Churchill had always held it should be smashed. Imperialism was adamant. It demanded “unconditional surrender.” The newspaper tune thereupon underwent a significant change. From the demand for the release of the Congress leadership’ as a preliminary to negotiation, the demand became one for the government to provide facilities for the Congress leadership in jail to meet in order to propose new terms. Imperialism still remained’ adamant; it was not prepared to negotiate at all. It demanded that the Congress leadership should come in sackcloth and ashes to accept the terms that it (British imperialism) was prepared to impose. The deadlock therefore continued.
Meantime, political agreement or no, the bourgeoisie were actually entering intimate cooperation with the government. Economics determines politics. The bourgeoisie were not only making profits out of the war but they were also looking ahead to the post-war world. Having failed in their bid for power, they were concerned at least to occupy certain strategic positions in the administrative machinery as a means of safeguarding and, if possible, advancing their interests to some little extent at least. In other words, they wanted Congress in office once more. The problem was how to pave the way for a political settlement.
The bourgeoisie, or rather the dominant section thereof, the big bourgeoisie, e.g., the Tatas and the Birlas, solved this problem with a masterly maneuver – he Bombay Plan. This plan, which in form is a blueprint for the industrialization of India, is in fact, a scheme for the more thoroughgoing exploitation of India by a combination of Anglo-American and Indian capital. It is also a propagandist device for swinging mass opinion once more behind the bourgeoisie by lavish promises of future prosperity under -bourgeois leadership (the plan stresses the raising of mass standards of living as its aim, though it does not indicate how this is to be achieved except as a putative by-product of the bourgeois search for profit). Above all, it is the basis for the reopening of negotiations by Congress for a surrender-settlement. The planners stress the need for a “National Government,” i.e., a government of the native exploiters under British imperialism, as an indispensable instrument for implementing their scheme.
The maneuver is bold – and it has succeeded. By diverting attention from “politics” to “economics” its authors have succeeded in creating the atmosphere for a surrender by Congress which can look something like a “peace with honor” – going back to office in order to “serve the people.” And in this atmosphere, the master-tactician of the Congress, Mahatma Gandhi is back in action once more.
Since his release, Mahatma Gandhi has taken three significant steps in the direction required by the bourgeoisie – and the imperialists. He has announced that the sanction clause of the August resolution has lapsed; that is to say Congress had abandoned the role of active opposition. He has condemned the violence of his followers and called on those who are “underground” to surrender to the government. He has thereby condemned the August mass struggle itself, for it was universally violent; organized, insofar as it was organized at all, and sustained by underground workers. And finally, he has proposed fresh terms as a basis of negotiation with the government.
The terms now offered by Mahatma Gandhi have a two-fold significance. They abandon the demand that British imperialism should quit India; and they offer full cooperation in the war. All he demands for today is a “National Government” at the center, which is to handle the civil administration in such a manner as to subserve the imperialist war effort (the military administration, including transport, etc., is left outside its purview).
British imperialism has already announced through the mouth of Mr. Amery that these terms do not provide a sufficient basis for immediate negotiation. Though Wavell has abandoned Linlithgow’s “sackcloth and ashes” demand, he still demands unconditional surrender in substance. Will Congress agree to the demand?
This is the immediate question of Indian politics. And there can be only one answer to it Congress will surrender – only an appropriate face-saving formula remains to be found. Congress will then have turned full circle, along with the war situation. It will be back in office once more, and this time, not even supposedly to break the Constitution from within but to work it.
What are the likely consequences of the coming Congress-Government settlement (a) on political parties, and (b) on the masses?
As to political parties – Congress itself will, on settlement and taking of office once more discredit itself both before the masses and before the more radical sections of its own membership, especially as those who really fought during the struggle are likely to be left to rot in imperialist jails. This radical section is already showing open discontent with the moves towards surrender that Mahatma Gandhi is making. When settlement comes, therefore, some portion of this section is likely to break away from Congress itself in search of some alternative organization, be it one that exists or one that is to be created anew. Once Congress is back in office, moreover, and thereby, on the one hand, takes on its own shoulders the responsibility for the repressive war-time measures of the imperialist government and, on the other, becomes directly associated in the minds of the masses with the intensified exploitation and consequent misery that imperialist war entails; the already disillusioned masses will turn away from Congress in search of an alternative leadership. In short, the radical intellectuals and the petty-bourgeois masses who have hitherto followed Congress will not only fall away from Congress but turn against it.
What of the Congress Socialist Party? It is important to note that the official leadership of the August struggle came from this hybrid organization of petty-bourgeois radicals who cling to the coattails of the Indian bourgeoisie. The struggle showed the distinctive stamp of their limited ideology and futile methods, especially after the mass movement began to ebb. The CSP leadership realized the need for violence, but did not know how to direct it in an organized fashion to a revolutionary purpose. Hence the orgy of negative destruction unaccompanied by a constructive attempt at a seizure of power.
The CSP leadership recognized, belatedly, the need for working class action; but it did not know, or knowing, did not dare use (because it would bring down on their heads the condign displeasure of their bourgeois masters) the class appeal for militant action. On the contrary, when the struggle was already ebbing it called on the working class to leave the factories and go back to the villages, thus seeking to use them as mere pawns in its scheme artificially to sustain the struggle. It is no wonder, therefore, that the working class failed to be moved by the ultimatist appeals of the CSP.
The CSP leadership found itself directing a peasant upsurge of remarkable militancy which, however, it could not develop further because it clung to the Congress perspective of no threat to landlordism. Consequently, the only method of deepening and widening the peasant struggle was never used – “Land to the Peasants” was never advanced anywhere by the CSP, but only “Refuse to Pay the Land Tax.” “Against the Government but Not Against Landlordism” – hat was the content of its policy for the peasantry.
Above all, when the mass movement began to ebb from the impasse created by limited perspectives and government repression, the only manner in which the CSP could think of trying to continue and revive the struggle was adventurism. The partisan band of guerrilla fighters, who not only fought the government but also forced, by threats, the now reluctant peasantry into helping them, became its characteristic method in the countryside. The saboteur group of casual bomb-throwers became its characteristic method in the city. But these methods of “continuing” the struggle individually and of “electrifying” the defeated masses once more into a struggle, failed, as they were bound to fail, miserably. The mass movement was dying – and no CSP methods could revive it. Thus the CSP leadership, which had by force of circumstances (the official bourgeois leadership had been put away by imperialism into its jails) received an unexpectedly complete opportunity for putting its “revolutionary” talk into practice; proved completely, in action it was simply unable to outstep the bounds of bourgeois “pressure politics” perspectives, and that, though “socialist” by label, it was merely Congress in fact.
Despite these facts, however, the CSP has gained in prestige and influence among the younger radical adherents of Congress by reason of its breach with the Congress tradition of non-violence and its determined effort to give the struggle both organization and leadership. But with the defeat of the August struggle and especially with the return of Mahatma Gandhi to active politics and the attendant strengthening of the Congress Right Wing, the CSP finds itself in an increasingly anomalous position within the Congress. And when the Congress-Government settlement comes it will find itself in a dilemma.
Such a settlement will carry with it Congress cooperation in British imperialism’s war and Congress participation in the suppression of the masses. It is impossible for the CSP, if it is to remain true to its August tradition, to support such a policy; and it is extremely doubtful that the Congress High Command will, in such event, tolerate its functioning as an organized opposition within the Congress fold. The CSP will thereby be forced to a choice – and this choice can only lead to the political demise of the CSP as a distinctive organization, for it will have either to surrender to the reactionary Congress Right Wing or to leave Congress altogether. The most probable outcome is a split in the CSP ranks. The CSP Right Wing has already surrendered to the reactionary Congress High Command. It is the CSP Left Wing, therefore, that will be really forced to the choice. If it surrenders, it is politically doomed. If it walks out, however, the question is whether it can carry with it enough adherent to launch a new political organization which would constitute an entirely new development in Indian politics inasmuch as it would connote the appearance of an Indian equivalent of the Social Revolutionary Party of Czarist Russia (such mass influence as the CSP has possessed has always been among the upper strata of the peasantry and not the lower strata or the working class). It is impossible at present to determine the probable outcome, especially as the Left Wing leadership and most of its active adherents are in the imperialist jails and unable to do anything regarding the present moves towards surrender. In any event, the CSP as such has no political future, even if it has a past.
The Communist Party of India, pursuant to its policy of unconditional support of the British imperialist war effort, openly and actively opposed the mass struggle, thus making themselves the tool of British imperialism in India. The confusionist and diversionist role that the Stalinists played during the height of the mass struggle was invaluable to British imperialism, particularly as they played an important part in holding back the working class from making that bid for leadership which alone could have carried the mass struggle forward to an effective onslaught against imperialist power.
The rank treachery of their role has resulted in the entire loss of such mass political influence as they had acquired in the days of their illegality. But they are still able to act as a brake on the working class in its economic struggles by reason of their bureaucratic control of a considerable number of trade unions and the opportunities for legal propaganda and activity which British imperialism finds convenient to accord them. Today they are active in the service of British imperialism. In the economic field they are carrying on a campaign for increased and uninterrupted production. In the political field they make feverish attempts to divert the discontent caused by the shortage of commodities and the rise in the cost of living away from its true cause, the imperialist war and imperialism, by suggesting that it is all due to “Fifth Column agents,” or hoarding, or the stupidities of the bureaucracy which they divorce from its imperialist context. Their main political activity, however, is the organizing of the most shameless class-collaborationist “Unity Campaign” directed towards gaining mass support for a “National Government” under imperialism, which could only represent an alliance of the feudalists, the Indian bourgeoisie and the imperialists against the masses themselves. With the signing of a Congress-Government settlement the Stalinists will also take on fully the task of doing coolie service for the Indian bourgeoisie. There is every probability that they will seek entry into the Indian National Congress; but whether the CP is accepted within the Congress fold or not, it will in fact make itself an agency within the working class for the Congress far more effective than the CSP has been or could ever be.
A Congress-Government settlement is likely to have important consequences on the feudal political organizations, viz., the Muslim League and the Hindu Maha Sabha. In the “August days,” British imperialism, faced as it was with a mass revolt and the opposition of the Indian bourgeoisie, leaned more heavily than ever on these feudal organizations. In pursuance of this policy it used every device, especially to strengthen the Muslim League and to jockey it into political position and office. At the same time, the ebb of the mass struggle as well as the pauperization of the petty bourgeoisie also resulted in a certain drift of petty bourgeois elements into these organizations and a certain increase in their influence among the petty bourgeoisie. In recent months, however, a certain change has taken place in their position, especially in that of the Muslim League. With the mass movement smashed and the Congress drifting back towards a surrender, the value of the Muslim League as a political weapon of the imperialists has been sharply reduced and therewith the strength of government’s support to it has visibly declined. The failure of Mr. Jinnah to browbeat the Muslim Premier of the Punjab was clearly due to imperialism’s support of the latter. Moreover, imperialism, while using the “Pakistan” demand as a stick with which to beat the Congress bourgeoisie, has nevertheless also declared its opposition to the vivisection of India – a British Imperialist – Indian bourgeois alliance of exploiters wants a consolidated India for exploitation and not a Balkanized India. The Muslim League is therefore on the decline. But it is no negligible factor in Indian politics.
There can be no doubt that, for various reasons, it has today obtained a genuine following among the Muslim masses. Whether it can hold it long is, of course, doubtful, for, as the Muslim League reaches the pinnacle of office in the imperialist administration, it tends to split in its leadership (e.g., recently in the Punjab, UP and Sind) on the one hand, and to lose its mass following, through disillusionment on the other. It is the consciousness of this fact which probably has moved Mr. Jinnah to agree to meet Mahatma Gandhi with a view to discussing the latter’s recent proposals for a settlement. Whether a settlement between Congress and the Muslim League will come, it is impossible to prophecy, but the cooperation in opposition recently of their respective wings in the Central Legislative Assembly is an important pointer to the future. Should a Congress-League settlement come, however, the position of the League among the masses will, after some temporary strengthening, continue to decline, especially as it will no longer be able as effectively as before to use the Pakistan issue as a means of diverting attention from its reactionary and repressive policy.
What will be the likely consequences among the masses of the coming Congress-Government settlement? Will it release any forces that will change the present mass mood?
The present situation in India is one of widespread mass apathy consequent on the August defeat. Among the petty bourgeoisie it amounts to demoralization and a turning away from politics. Any perspective of a resumed mass movement is thus pushed away into an uncertain future. There are, however, two important saving features.
In the first place, the prevailing demoralization, though it has influenced the proletariat too, has not caught it up to the same extent. It is significant that the wave of strikes on the food question followed the August struggle; that there have since been important strike struggles (e.g., the Karachi Docks strike) which in some cases have been very prolonged (e.g., the Nagpur textile strike); and that, even recently, sporadic strikes on such questions as food, bonus and the dearness allowance have taken place. Although the working class too, is politically apathetic, it certainly is not demoralized and is even ready to take action on economic issues that affect it vitally and interest it directly.
Secondly, there has never been a greater hatred of British imperialism among the widest masses than there is today; a hatred so deep that it would actually welcome (and this is its reactionary aspect) a change of imperialist exploiters because a change would entail the end of British imperialism. This hatred reflects itself also in the mass attitude to the war, an attitude which, if it is not one of active opposition, is definitely one of complete indifference, namely, that it is not their war at all. And not all the propaganda of the National War Front, the Stalinists and the Royists put together has been able to accomplish any significant change in mass opinion in this respect.
The present political situation is thus deeply contradictory. It is largely a question of the subjective factor and not of objective conditions. And this subjective factor can undergo a rapid transformation in the event of a sharp change in the correlation of forces internally or externally. Whether such a sharp change will take place in the near future it is impossible to foretell; but the setting of the imperialist world war in which the Indian political situation is developing makes swift changes always possible. Until a change takes place, however, the present mass mood will not lift. And until the mass mood lifts, whether as a result of slow molecular processes within the masses, or rapidly as a result of some sharp change in the correlation of forces, mass work must necessarily proceed on the basis of the program of elementary democratic demands.
The return of Congress to office is likely to initiate a change in the mass mood. The opportunity that will arise for engaging in “constitutional” politics will arrest the demoralization of the urban petty bourgeoisie and cause a return by them to political activity. In particular, the demand for the release of all political prisoners will undoubtedly provide a strong plank for general agitation among them. Among the peasantry, especially in the areas where the “August repression” did not strike with its heaviest force, partial struggles on elementary issues are likely to arise. Most of all, among the working class, by reason of the relatively higher level of morale, partial economic struggles are likely to break out. In participating in these struggles, the task of the party will be to extend their sweep when they are based on general issues like wage, food, dearness allowance, and bonus questions, and to raise their level by linking them up through such questions as the arrest of strike leaders, with more general political issues like the release of all political prisoners.
Further, a sustained agitation on such questions as the right of independent trade union organization, free speech and meetings, the right to strike, etc., must be systematically conducted as a means of reviving militant trade unionism. Insofar as such revival takes place it is bound to lead also to a revival of the general working class movement, for there cannot be, in present conditions, any militant trade union activity which will not immediately pose political issues. Above all in all its agitational and propaganda work, the party must ever keep to the fore the issue of imperialism and the imperialist war. The setting up of a “National Government” at the center and constitutional governments in the provinces will provide imperialism with a facade behind which to operate and thus reduce the sharpness with which the anti-imperialist issue was posed by reason of the bourgeoisie’s going into open opposition. In this situation, the party must help the masses not only to withstand the treacherous role of the bourgeois Congress but also to see behind the facade the real power it actually faces, viz., imperialism. The party must, therefore, in all its work, clearly and concretely, relate all issues to this question by bringing home to the masses the all-pervasive effect on economic and political conditions of the imperialist war and the intensified exploitation it entails.
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Last updated on 12.9.2008