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The New International, August 1946


Editorial Comment

The Indian Negotiations


From New International, Vol.12 No.6, August 1946, pp.165-67.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

After three months lengthy negotiations, conducted in the cool but dark recesses of the Viceregal palaces at New Delhi and Simla, the three Labor Party representatives of His Majesty’s Labor Government appear, at this moment of writing, to have made a conditional satisfactory settlement with India’s political parties and communities. While the intricate details – that is, the actual and exact division of the various new posts and portfolios – have not yet been worked out, nevertheless it seems correct to assume that we are on the threshhold of a new relationship, a new modus viviendi between those two ancient and bitter antagonists – British imperialism, represented today by the Attlee Labor Government, and Indian nationalism, represented today by the All-India Congress Party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Moslem League of Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

It is important to recognize, however, that while Gandhi and his Congress Party have accepted the over-all, long-range proposition of the British, this acceptance raises far more questions and problems than it solves. The plan may best be described as a general algebraic formula, filled with unknown variables only a few of which have as yet been given any concrete meaning and content. The new, post-war relations between India and the Empire are far from settled and British imperialism will find that it has taken only the first step toward its objective – the creation within India of a stable, orderly regime that will allow British capital investment to remain on and draw profit; that will share, but not usurp or challenge, power with the English; that will accept, even in modified form, defensive allegiance to the Empire and contribute in the general struggle to ward off encroaching Russian and American imperialism. But the preliminary nature of the agreement does not deny its importance or significance. This holds true for the British bourgeoisie and the Indian bourgeoisie (the real signers of the new contract) alike. Both are making a serious effort, perhaps the final effort, to achieve a harmonious front against the dangers of internal nationalist revolution, led by the Indian workers and peasantry; as well as the dangers represented by rival powers. The urgency of the situation, due both to Britain’s world position and the tenseness of class and national relations within India itself, has forced both bourgeois forces to make important concessions to one another.

To begin with, Britain has recognized India’s abstract right to independence, including the right to withdraw formally from the British Empire. This is certainly a concession over and beyond the former posing of the question as that of India becoming a Dominion, like Canada, South Africa, etc., within the Empire. Furthermore, in part II of the accepted plan, a method is laid down for the convening of a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution for an independent India, which shall in turn make a treaty with England. Of course, these are formulae, the exact meaning of which are not yet clear even to the participants. It would nevertheless be an error not to recognize the real nature of these concessions, particularly since the people of that country will be the ones who determine precisely what is meant. Even part I of the Plan, providing for the creation of an interim government prior to the convening of the Constituent Assembly, is yet to become operative and worked out. Yet, from the standpoint of both bourgeoisies, this is secondary, since the general principle of an orderly sharing at power has been agreed upon.

Concession to “Pakistan”

Secondly, the Congress Party has been forced to make important concessions to the Moslem League’s demand for a separatist, “Pakistan” state, ruled by a Moslem majority. Part II of the British proposal clearly provides for the grouping together of Moslem-majority provinces, destined to have a specific weight as Moslem territory, in the new India to be created by the Constituent Assembly. This concession was necessary to obtain Moslem League support to the proposal, and marks a clear retreat on the part of the Congress which has heretofore attempted to deny the strength of Moslem communalism. The interim government will, furthermore, recognize this increased weight of the Moslem League by the number of seats and the importance of the portfolios to be granted to the League. Jinnah demands parity with the Congress; he may obtain this, or only slightly less. Just as the Indian, predominantly Hindu, national bourgeoisie is able to drag concessions out of the British because of the latter’s delicate position; so is the unique Moslem bourgeoisie able to effect concessions in its dealings with the Congress leadership. The relationship between these three forces – Hindu national bourgeoisie (Congress); Moslem bourgeoisie (League) and British imperialism (Labor Government) – is what shapes the concrete course of events in India today. This, admittedly, is on the level of bourgeois, diplomatic, imperialist politics, and will remain so until the masses of India are prepared to break their current silence.

But even on this plane, even on the basis of bourgeois relationships, all the major problems of India, its bourgeoisie, and relations with the Empire, remain. Here we wish only to list the important ones:

  1. An interim government must be organized, and its powers, composition, membership, duration, etc., established. This alone will require further negotiations, "deals" and shennanigans between the Viceroy and those primadonnas of Indian politics – Messrs. Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah.
  2. Once established, such an interim government will be threatened with immediate collapse under the weight of the tragic food famine now threatening huge areas of the country. Nehru has told the peasants to revolt rather than starve. Will he, the future Prime Minister of his country, support such actions?
  3. The convocation of the proposed Constituent Assembly (we deal below with the character of this Assembly) still faces many difficulties. Shall Europeans (English) be represented despite objections by Gandhi and the Congress? How shall the undemocratic, fraudulent manner of convening the Assembly be "sold" to the Indian masses? What of other minorities and communities?
  4. More important, how shall the Assembly itself function? Will the Congress Party have a workable majority and impose its program? A bitter struggle over the new Constitution will unquestionably take place between various factions of the Assembly. Above all, what will be done on the issue of an unconditional declaration of independence from Britain, if a revolutionary delegate is present to propose such a resolution? In a word, the very ability of such an Assembly even to live is open to question.
  5. Finally, the new government for India to be created by this Constituent Assembly (and that, by itself, is a tremendous problem) must in turn draft a treaty defining its relations with Britain and the Empire. Here, the whole matter of trade, investment, customs and tariffs, etc., enters. How can the new government solve this to its advantage without posing, in a basic sense, the whole problem of expropriation of British capital?

The magnitude of these problems confronted by the Indian bourgeoisie is apparent. There is as much hope for the Indian capitalist class to effect an orderly, peaceful, smooth and long-drawn-out transition to a “bourgeois-democratic” Indian republic, as there was for the Russian liberal bourgeoisie to carry out a similar task under the Czar. At every step along the road, the whole problem of Indian social life and economy is dragged into the picture. Behind the constitutional, administrative and parliamentary issues lurk the general social problems of the 385,000,000 people of this sub-continent. The agrarian revolution, involving the matters of land ownership and distribution; the industrial revolution, involving the Indian proletariat and its class struggle against British-native capitalism; the acute Moslem and minorities problem; the relationship of an independent India with Britain and foreign imperialist powers, etc. It is inconceivable that the weak, feeble and often pathetic Indian bourgeoisie can tiptoe its way through this maze, without threatening a social outburst at each mincing step. To preserve the "peaceful" atmosphere and keep the masses off the scene, it could only capitulate to the British at each step. Both – we repeat – both know this.

* * * * *

To best understand what the forces involved will be fighting and maneuvering for in the future, we must explain the general objectives behind the various parties and organizations. We have already touched upon the objective of the British and it is evident enough not to require any expansion. This leaves the Congress Party, the Moslem League and other minority communities (Sikhs, Christians, etc.). The English and Anglo-American communities within Indian society will always be, of course, bitterly antagonistic to Indian nationalism and social change. Their future lies with the Viceroy and the British Raj, come what may. Other religious-communal minorities – Sikhs, Parsees, Christians, etc. – are of minor importance, numerically and politically, and, provided they are guaranteed their democratic rights of existence in both theory and practice, can easily be fitted into a federal, independent India. The real political movements in Indian affairs are represented by the Moslem League and the Congress Party.

The Moslem League

Within the last ten years, thanks primarily to the hostile attitude of the Congress Party leadership toward the Moslem people, the Moslem League of Jinnah has grown widely in support, membership and influence. It has succeeded in shaping, canalizing and presenting to the country the various complaints, discriminations and hardships to which the Moslem community is subjected. In a word, it has created a reactionary, but living, force of narrow Moslemic communalists and chauvinism, and beyond doubt succeeded in splitting the generally united forces of Indian nationalism, formerly under Congress leadership. Moslem nationalism, in the form of the League, can no longer be belittled or underrated. We cannot here go into the reasons or history of this development … a future issue of The New International will contain material on this subject and, in general, the whole problem of Hindu-Moslem relationships.

The Moslem League is the organization of the backward semi-feudal but ambitious Moslem landlords, feudal princes, professionals and students. As the organized movement of the Moslem ruling class it aims to strengthen that classes general status within the Indian society, break out into the sphere of native industry and capitalist development, safeguard its feudal property and land rights and become accepted as the authoritative voice of the 92,000,000 Moslem workers and peasants. Its ultimate goal is the organization of a separatist state of “Pakistan,” in which this class shall be the sole ruling class over the Hindu and Moslem populations within thaty territory. Its immediate goal is a satisfactory number of posts within the approaching interim government and a sufficiently strong representation at the Constituent Assembly.

Because of the fact that the Moslem masses are largely unorganized, and among the most apathetic and downtrodden section of the population, the Moslem League has, by default appeared as the spokesman for the Moslem people. It has fee itself largely on legitimate experiences and complaints conveyed to it by the Moslem peasantry in the latter’s dealings with Hindu landlords and bourgeois. But the real weakness of the League lies precisely in its present source of mass strength. Only so long as the Moslem masses are not organized into workers' unions and peasant associations will the League be able to retain its hold. Any class and social movement of the Moslem masses would immediately upset the League since it would be directed, first of all, against the Moslem rulers themselves. Thus we find the Moslem League holding a common front with the British and the Congress Party in denying the Moslem people, for example, the right to vote on the issue of “Pakistan” and separatism. This reason alone is more than justification for the revolutionists of India to become champions of the popular rights of the Moslem people, in their efforts to break the Moslems from their present narrow, reactionary leadership. Not a feudal-capitalist “Pakistan” state of the Moslem League, but the active participation of the Moslem workers and peasants in India's class struggle, and the resolving of the Moslem-communal problem according to the express will of the Moslem people, within an independent India.

Congress Party Moves to Right

The role of the Congress Party in Indian affairs has often been described. This Party functions as the organized instrument of the Indian national bourgeoisie, in its long struggle to create conditions favorable to the health and growth of native Indian capitalism. Naturally, the Party has had to organize the support of India’s masses, to a certain extent and under given conditions, but it has never failed to lay low the mass nationalist struggle at each decisive phase of the movement. The Congress Party has become increasingly conservative and dominated by the rabid Hindu communalist organization of the Hindu Mahassabha. Today, it is openly the party of the big Indian industrialists, textile manufacturers, landlords and petty bourgeoisie. We cannot detail the various acts marking the Party’s consistent turn to the right, but the latest and most significant example is its acceptance of the Constituent Assembly proposed by British imperialism. What revolting treachery lies in Gandhi's acceptance of this proposal! The Congress has ostensibly always stood for a popular Assembly, freely elected through universal suffrage. Instead, the Assembly accepted by them is to be (1) not even elected, but appointed by provincial Legislative Assemblies which were, in turn, elected by less than 5 per cent of the population, and (2) will consist of delegates appointed by the Rajahs of the feudal Native States, to the tune of 25 per cent of the total. It is doubtful if a more undemocratic, unrepresentative Assembly has ever been convened in the history of bourgeois society, yet the Congress has approved. The tactical problem of participation or boycott of this Assembly is, of course, a problem for the Indian revolutionists. Yet it is clear that no revolutionary party or tendency can assume the slightest responsibility for this joint Assembly of British imperialism and Indian capitalist-feudalism.

What does the Congress Party want? At the Poona session of the All-India Congress Committee, held in 1940, the Congress adopted a resolution expressing clearly, for the first time, its constitutional program. It demanded the creation of a strong government at the Center-a strong Congress government, it goes without saying. It is still seeking this objective and no doubt feels that the coming Constituent Assembly will enforce this demand. But this is merely the governmental form through which the Congress Party – i.e., the Indian capitalist class – hopes to win more basic economic victories. The Congress, furthermore, desires to see the withdrawal of the British Army from India and its replacement by a “national” Army; a government over which the British Viceroy has no veto rights, and a centralized state apparatus with clear-cut Congress Party majorities in the legislative and administrative bodies.

The union government at the Center, as envisaged by Congress, must have authority in all foreign affairs, regulations of defense and communications (with financial powers in the above categories); control of an independent revenue system; currency and customs (tariff, duties, excises, etc.) powers and “other subjects ... intimately allied to them.” We quote from various letters of the Congress Working Committee in its dealings with the British mission. The nature and content of these demands are apparent. They belong to a class that, within definite limits, still believes history holds out to it the hope for riches, expansion and power over great masses.

If but one revolutionary delegate speaks out at the coming Constituent Assembly and voices the real demands of the Indian millions – the cry for food and land, for a free India without ties to England – he will tear the hypocritical mask off these enemies of India; enemies who stand united – British imperialism, Moslem communal-nationalism and the Hindu landlord-capitalists. For united they stand behind one proposition – the common exploitation of 385,000,000 people.

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