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Fourth International, June 1947


Indra Sen

The Road to Socialism in India

An Answer to the Congress Socialists


From Fourth International, June 1947, Vol.8 No.6, pp.182-184.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The following article was written by an Indian Trotskyist as an answer to the political views of Jai Prakash Narain, leader of the Congress Socialist Party. Comrade Sen presents the conception of the permanent revolution in opposition to the program of “a national democratic revolution” set forth by Narain. Narain leaves open the decisive question: which class will lead the Indian revolution? Sen asserts that only the working class can lead the people of India in victorious struggle for national liberation and Socialism.

The Congress Socialist Party is a typically petty-bourgeois party, both in its policy and in its membership, which has served the bourgeoisie under the banner of socialism. Throughout the war it formed part of the capitalist-dominated Indian National Congress. There has been considerable ferment among the ranks of this party in protest against the timid and vacillating, policies of the leadership. This article, presenting the viewpoint of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, was designed to clarify the crucial questions regarding the perspectives of the revolution in India preoccupying the militants inside the CSP.

This article was published as a pamphlet by Comrade S.C.C. Antony Pillai, President of the Madras Labor Union, whose arrest by the Congress Government led to a protest strike by 100,000 Madras workers on March 31, 1947. – Ed.


Jai Prakash and the Road to Socialism

The Congress Socialist leader Jai Prakash (J.P.) Narain has, in an article published in the Bharat Jyoti of January 26, 1947, prognosticated a national democratic revolution which will place in power not the capitalist class but the toiling and middle classes. “The revolution must mobilize fully the peasants, the workers in the factories, the students, the city poor and middle classes. Such a revolution will not only lead to the establishment of a full democracy in India but also take us a considerable way on the road to Socialism.” He recognizes further that the social aspirations of the peasantry as well as of the working class have to find a prominent place in the program of the revolution so that it may succeed. It is for the first time that a CSP leader explicitly recognizes that political objectives by themselves are inadequate for mass mobilization on a scale necessary for ending imperialism. It is imperative to harness and use as levers the social urges of the masses for the national democratic revolution. So far, so good.

But J.P. has failed to clearly state which class will lead the revolution. Obviously the landlords cannot, because by definition their interests are antagonistic to the interests of the revolution, of which the agrarian overturn is the pivot. The capitalist class too has been excluded by implication: “such revolution will place at the top not the capitalist class.” Then is it the urban petty bourgeoisie, the city working class, or the rural peasantry that will lead? To this there is no clear answer.

Explanation of Congress Policy

J.P.’s failure to answer this question flows from two wrong premises, namely,

  1. that the Congress is the united front of several classes and
  2. that it can be hustled into action by the left wing (although Gandhi had made it clear at the Ramgarh Congress that those who believed that they could hustle the Congress into action were sadly mistaken).

J.P. admits that “the dominant section of the Congress ... seems at bottom guided by capitalistic ideas,” he admits that Congress “declarations of social policy are merely tactical moves to placate the masses in order not to lose their support,” he admits that “the Congress leadership seems to have decisively turned its face away from revolution.” Yet he “feels convinced” that circumstances will force the Congress to resort to direct action. J.P. thus refuses to learn anything from contemporary facts, anything from history. The lessons of the August struggle [1] have escaped him. To him the disowning by the Congress of the August struggle, the disclaiming of responsibility for it, the condemnation of its methods, the prohibition of August 9 celebrations, are all bona fide mistakes of the Congress. The sabotage of the struggle in connection with the RIN mutiny is a blunder. These are all disjointed events, all of an episodic character, all miscalculations.

But to one who uses the method of class analysis, these events present no mystery. They all together constitute a pattern of class behavior, of class reaction to the growing revolutionary struggles of the masses.

Its mass membership derived from various classes has blinded J.P. to the class character of the Congress. The Chinese Kuomintang also had a mass membership, but history proved it to be the party of the Chinese bourgeoisie. This mass membership is necessary for the political parties of the colonial bourgeoisie, who need to make use of the mass movement for gaining concessions from imperialism. But mass membership does not make such parties non-class or supra-class. It does not change the bourgeois parties into united fronts. The left phraseology, in which the parties of the colonial bourgeoisie have to demagogically indulge, also cannot change their class character; cannot basically alter their social and economic policy. Such parties lead movements against imperialism not in order to lead the masses in a revolutionary onslaught on imperialism. They lead them in order to be better able to control and limit them to the interests of the capitalist class so that they can sell out, at the opportune moment, the national struggles to imperialism.

Such a sell-out has already been effected by the Congress on behalf of the Indian capitalist class. That is why Congress has not released the RIN boys, INA men and even all the August prisoners. The sell-out is over. But the price has still to be fixed. That is why the fake Constituent Assembly is in session at Delhi. This fake Assembly serves as the bargaining counter when imperialism and the Indian capitalist class are haggling. All the tall talk of imperialism being forced to quit, are meant to cover up the surrender-settlement with imperialism.

The Dilemma of Congress Socialism

It is because of his refusal to see beneath the surface the class reality underlying it, that J.P. still hopes to cling to the apron-strings of Congress. His forecast that “the capitalist class after the capture of power would be confronted with certain responsibilities which it cannot discharge consistently with its class interest” is a forecast that has already been out-dated by swiftly moving events. For, even before it is in possession of power, the capitalist class is finding it impossible to discharge the responsibilities with which it is confronted by virtue of its undertaking to run the imperialist administration. The more apparent becomes its failure, the greater becomes its hostility to criticism.

Thus the Congress Right Wing is today in no mood to tolerate left elements inside the Congress. That is why the Congress constitution is shortly to be amended in an authoritarian direction. That is why there is all this move of shutting out left elements from elective posts in the Congress. That is why the annual session of the Congress is going to be abandoned. That is why the Interim Government as well as the provincial governments are vying with one another in the matter of smothering civil liberties. The Congress ministries have no time to check black-marketing, to prevent the rise in the cost of living, to stop inflation, to tackle the acute housing problem, to fix a minimum wage for workers. But it found time to take away the elementary civil liberty, the right to strike. The Congress ministries have not flinched to shoot down hungry workers on strike. The Congress Party ministry did not hesitate to ban the entry of Nana Patil into Berar. The Bombay ministry sanctioned the search of the CSP office at Poona. The Madras ministry has passed a notorious ordinance incorporating the most objectionable features of the war time DIR, which virtually abolishes civil liberties. The Bihar ministry under a similar ordinance has made wholesale arrests of Congress Socialist workers in the Jharia coalfields.

This failure to face up to facts lands J.P. in an absurd position. He wants to be inside the Congress and at the same time to strengthen the class organizations of the masses and to develop the class struggles of the workers and peasants. He entirely forgets that only the other day the Bombay P.C.C. passed a resolution making it obligatory for Congressmen doing trade union work to get their unions “associated” with the Hindustan Mazdoor Sevak Sangh. (The HMSS has an irremovable All-India Working Committee comprised exclusively of right wing Congressmen, which directs the policy and nominates the provincial office bureau.) This HMSS is by constitution opposed to class struggle. It stands for class peace, i.e., class subordination of the workers to the capitalists. In short, it is a device to tie hand and foot the proletariat in the interests of the capitalists. In case of failure to get the their unions “associated” with the HMSS, Congressmen are directed to resign and start rival unions, thus splitting the ranks of the working class. One can therefore legitimately ask J.P. how, in the circumstances, it is possible to be inside the Congress and at the same time to strengthen the class organizations of the workers and develop, their class struggle. This is the dilemma of Congress Socialism. It is a dilemma that can be solved in only one of two ways, either by remaining within Congress and betraying the workers’ and peasants’ cause, or by breaking away from Congress and boldly championing that cause.

Which Class Will Lead the Revolution

We would now answer the question for J.P. – the question we raised at the beginning as to which class would lead the revolution. The urban petty bourgeoisie cannot lead the revolution. It is economically dependent on the bourgeoisie. It is not homogeneous – the upper strata being bourgeois in ideology, in social milieu and in social connections, will follow the bourgeoisie; the lower strata, driven by the economic conditions of existence, can only follow the other fundamental class of modern society, the proletariat. It is therefore not possible for the urban petty bourgeoisie to formulate an independent program of its own. It may temporarily play a very clamorous role, but cannot play an independent role, far less the leading role.

The peasantry, the most oppressed class in society, also lack social cohesion. Not only are there a number of strata with conflicting interests, but the peasants are scattered over vast territories with the result that they cannot by their own forces, organize themselves for joint and coordinated action on a scale which is necessary to secure the successful conclusion of the fight against imperialism. Cultural backwardness also contributes to the inability of the peasantry to take the leading part in the revolution. This does not, of course, mean that we are ignoring or minimizing the role of the peasantry in the revolution. On the contrary we hold that the agrarian overturn is the axis of the revolution. The peasantry indisputably has both powerful Revolutionary aims and urges. But its social, cultural and economic position debars it from playing an independent role, far less a leading role.

The peasantry has ever in history followed an urban class. In the classic bourgeois revolutions, it followed the bourgeoisie. In the Russian revolution it followed the proletariat. After the near laboratory social experiment in Russia, where all sorts of peasant parties, claiming to be independent of the bourgeoisie as well as of the proletariat, flourished, it can be definitely asserted that the peasantry is incapable of playing an independent role – it follows either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat.

The city proletariat, occupying the most strategic position in the national economy, can easily disrupt and paralyze the governmental machinery. Large scale capitalist production has imposed organization and discipline on this class, and this makes the task of organizing this class easy. Being an urban class, its cultural level is comparatively high; it easily learns from the failure and successes of the proletariat of other countries. In the present epoch of capitalist decline, only the working class can supply the peasantry with a program, a banner and a leadership. Only the proletariat can assume the role of the liberator of the peasantry from the clutches of the landlords and money lenders.

The New State That Will Emerge

The proletariat, by virtue of its leading role in the revolution, will seize the state power as the representative of the nation. The working class in power cannot but start the socialist reconstruction of society, thus making serious inroads in the system of private property. The new state thus emerging from a successful revolution would be the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry. That is to say, the ruling class will be the proletariat and not the bourgeoisie; the dominant property forms will be of a socialist, not capitalist character.

This dictatorship would be “a particular form of class alliance between the proletariat, the advance guard of the toilers, and the numerous non-proletarians sections of toilers (the peasantry, small proprietors, the petty bourgeoisie intelligentsia, etc.), or their majority; an alliance against capital, an alliance aimed at the complete overthrow of capital, at the complete repression of the resistance of, the bourgeoisie and all efforts at restoration on its side; an alliance aiming at the final creation and stabilization of socialism. This is an alliance of a particular kind, which is formed in special circumstances of civil war, this is an alliance of the firm supporters of socialism with its hesitating allies, sometimes with ‘neutral’ (then, from being an alliance for struggle the alliance becomes an agreement for neutrality), an alliance between classes which are not similar economically, politically, socially or psychologically.” (Lenin – The Deception of the People)

Within the framework of the workers’ state, there will function the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government which will run the administration. The state forms during the transition from capitalism to socialism may be varied, but in essence it will remain the political rule of the proletariat, the proletarian dictatorship. Just as the forms of the bourgeois state are extremely varied, but remain in essence the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, so also the forms of the workers’ state may vary, but continue to remain in essence the dictatorship of the proletariat. We, however, strive for workers’ democracy as the form of government most suitable and most healthy for the transition period between capitalism and socialism.

Whether such a dictatorship will degenerate into totalitarianism as in Russia, depends upon a number of factors, national and international. But in all probability it will kindle the revolutionary fire in Britain and on the continent of Europe, which in its turn will inspire the Soviet masses to throw out the Stalinist bureaucracy. This revolution in advanced countries will help the Indian revolution in solving its problems. The proletariat of advanced countries through their own states will help the Indian working class in rapidly industrializing the country, in industrializing agriculture, in raising the productivity per capita, in raising the cultural level of the people, etc.

Not Democracy But Police-Military Dictatorship

But in case the Indian proletariat fails to organize its class party and snatch in time the leadership of the national struggle from the bourgeoisie, the revolution is doomed to failure. If India, on the other hand, becomes free not through her own efforts but as the outcome of a peculiar combination of international factors, the capitalist will, in the words of J.P., come out on top. But the resultant governmental set-up will not be democracy, as J.P. visualizes. The economic basis for bourgeois democracy no longer exists. In an age of capitalist decline, the capitalist class is no more in a position to give sops to the working class, and it can ill afford the luxury to rule by democratic means. The big capitalists of Spain could not allow the democratic “Popular Front” government to function, even though this government was pledged to defend the private ownership of the means of production. Today only a very few advanced capitalist countries with colonies to loot from, and of course, America with her tremendous resources and financial power, can afford the luxury of democratic state forms.

Inability to solve the problems presented by history does not, as J.P. appears to believe, prompt the capitalist class to band over power to the proletariat. Faced with problems defying solution within the framework of capitalism, the capitalist class gives up democratic trappings and resorts to open terroristic dictatorship. In India this terroristic dictatorship, in case the proletariat fails to act, will be a police-military dictatorship, a Franco type regime. The suppression of civil liberties, the shooting of workers and peasants, the passing of anti-working class, anti-strike legislation by Congress ministries give us a foretaste of the dish the capitalist class in power will serve the masses. No devil cuts its own claws. The Indian capitalist class will prove no exception to the historical law of class domination.

Socialism by Victory at the Polls?

Even if for arguments sake, it is granted that democracy of J.P.’s conception will flourish in the country, it is extremely naive to expect that the Socialist party of India, the successor, according to J.P., of the CSP, in free capitalist India, will “by a victory at the polls, take over the Government and legislature and use them in accordance with law to destroy capitalism and create socialism.” It is possible only for J.P. to imagine that the capitalist class will accept the election defeat as final and definitive. J.P. seems to have completely forgotten that the Finnish Socialists, who won the election, were forcibly overthrown in 1918 by the Finnish capitalists with German military help. Moreover the state is not supra-class or non-class. It is an apparatus of coercion for maintaining the rule of one class over the oppressed class. The bourgeois machine and the legal system are instruments for maintaining the rule of the capitalist class over the working class. They cannot be used for emancipating labor, for ending capitalism, for ushering in Socialism. The working class will have to scrap the old state machinery and legal system and build its own, before socialist reconstruction can be started.

Both Marx and Engels before and after the Paris Commune have made this idea clear. Let us see what Marx and Engels wrote in June 1872 in their last preface to the new German edition of the Communist Manifesto. ‘One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready state machinery and wield it for its own purpose.’ The words in single quotation marks in the above-mentioned passage are taken from Marx’s Civil War in France.

In support of his contention that socialism can be brought about by a victory at the polls, J.P. cites Marx. What Marx suggested in an epoch of rising capitalism by way of a possible exception to the general rule, has been raised by J.P in an epoch of general capitalist crisis and decline, to a universal law valid for all time. The institutions or rather their absence, which might have in the Nineteenth Century made a peaceful transition to socialism possible in countries like Britain, were, as Lenin has clearly pointed out, the standing army and the bureaucracy. In the seventies of the Nineteenth Century when Marx made the remark quoted by J.P., these two institutions were absent in those countries. This absence might have rendered those countries exceptional to the historical law of revolution then. But these military-bureaucratic machines which exist elsewhere today in the capitalist world, will persist in free capitalist India also, whether democratic or not. And the capitalist class will know how to use them in case of election defeat. Let us see what the German Socialist Liebknecht says in this connection.

“Let us suppose that the government does not interfere, perhaps as a matter of policy, and that at last the dream of some imaginative Socialist politicians comes true, and there is Social Democratic majority in Parliament, what would happen? Now has come the time for reforming Society and the State! The majority makes up its mind to do something to make the day and hour memorable in history – the new era is about to begin. Oh! nothing of the kind! – A company of soldiers bids the Social Democratic majority be gone; if these gentlemen do not leave quickly a few policemen will show them the way to the state prison, where they will have ample time to reflect on their quixotic conduct. Revolutions are not made by permission of the government; the Socialist idea cannot be realized within the sphere of the existing state, which must be abolished before the foetus of the future can enter into visible life.” (Ueber die Politische Stellung, pp.11-12.)

In case a party bearing the title Socialist is allowed to run the administration, that itself will constitute the proof that the so-called Socialist Party is not Socialist at all. It will be like the British Labor Party which serves the capitalists’ interests, only in a different way suited to the present day conditions. The British Labor Party is Labor only in its social composition. But it does not represent the interests of the British working class.

British Labor Party “Socialism”

Nor is the Labor Government putting “Socialist schemes” into practice as has been claimed by J.P. The so-called nationalization of the coal industry in Britain was a demand of the mine-owners themselves. The British coal owners with their hopelessly antiquated methods of production were for a long time finding it difficult to face foreign competition. They did not have the money for modernizing and introducing technical improvements into the mines. Therefore the purchase by the state has only solved their problem. They will receive $150,000,000,for modernizations and technical improvements. Interest on the bonds given to the coal owners in exchange for ownership will be the first charge on the industry. The state industry will be run as a “business enterprise” or, in other words the state will pay for the modernization and will keep the miners quiet by threats and the coal owners will continue fattening on unearned income. Nor is this all. The management of the mines has been entrusted to a board which is almost exclusively composed of old mine owners. There is no democratic control of the miners over production. The wages and conditions of work remain almost as bad as ever. No wonder, therefore, the London Economist (the paper of the British financiers) in its issue of July 30, 1946 commented – “By general agreement, which is not confined to Labor ranks, coal is the most suitable candidate for nationalization.”

In the transport system the story is exactly the same, even in details. The owners will be lavishly compensated even though the original capital invested has been paid as profits many times over. The interest on the bonds will be first charge on the nationalized industry. A large sum here also has to be spent to modernize industry. Transport service will be run as a “business enterprise,” i.e., strictly on capitalist lines, and with powers in the hands of the management, so that the conditions of the transport workers will remain the same as before. The supervision will be in the bands of a Transport Commission to be composed of a chairman and four members appointed by the ministers. It will be run on lines similar to those of the mining industry with its capitalist Coal Board.

In the Steel industry, even this fake nationalization has not taken place. The Labor Government has decided to keep the Steel industry a privately owned monopoly trust to work in conjunction with the state. The effective control will remain with the given group of monopolists, but the workers will be tied with the bureaucratic state regulations. This is the economic structure to which fascism has given the classic expression. It has nothing in common with the aims and aspirations of the British working class.

The London Economist in its August 10, 1946 issue has been constrained to write, “There is probably not a single one of these Acts (Nationalization, etc.), that the Opposition (Tories), if they were to come into power tomorrow, would repeal in its entirety, and not very many that they would seriously amend.” Only this explains the half-hearted opposition from the Tory Party.

No genuine Socialist Party can come to power by democratic constitutional means – this is the teaching of history, this is the lesson from contemporary facts. If any party bearing the title Socialist comes to power thus, it can do so only with the consent of the capitalist class; it can only serve the capitalist interest. Let J.P. answer whether he really stands for the formation of a Socialist Party of the British Labor Party type; whether he stands for the brand of Socialism the Labor Party is introducing in Britain.

Three Conclusions

In the meantime, let us leave J.P. and the British Labor Party, and return to the contemporary political situation in India. Recent developments, and particularly developments in Congress policy, raise matters which Congress Socialists can refuse to face up to only at the risk of political decline and death. These developments inexorably point to three conclusions, all three of which Congress Socialists have hitherto failed to accept. Firstly, that the present Congress-Imperialist alliance is not a mere “mistake” but the inevitable outcome of the Congress being the party of the Indian bourgeoisie. Secondly, that India under Congress leadership faces not a period of democracy, but a period of brutal police-military repression of the mass movement; and that whatever democracy is secured will have to be won by the masses by their struggles. Thirdly and finally, that these struggles of the masses, as well as their struggle for complete national liberation and Socialism, will have to be led by a party which is based on the working class and which is independent both politically and organizationally of the Congress. How many Congress Socialists will be bold enough to draw these conclusions?


1. The reference here is to the movement that erupted on August 9, 1942. For a detailed analysis see, The August 1942 Struggle, by Rupsingh, Fourth International, October 1944.

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