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The New International, December 1946


Suren Murarji

Politics of the Indian Bourgeoisie


From New International, Vol.12 No.10, December 1946, pp.301-304.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Gandhi’s “Constructive Program”

The center of the Constructive Program, says Gandhi, is “always the charkha [1] around which all activities revolve.” Inasmuch as politics is in the final analysis governed by economics, Gandhi is undoubtedly correct. The charkha is the center of the Constructive Program because the charkha (in conjunction with all other implements in the primitive wooden family) constitutes, together with the land and the cow, the main means of production in Gandhian society. Charkha economics determines charkha politics. Hence “all other activities revolve around it.” We, however, are reluctant to leave things at that. We perceive certain inconsistencies in the way in which charkha politics has been formulated. We suspect that this brand of politics has not been entirely spun on the charkha; that better spindles and more powerful looms have had something to do with its creation. While, therefore, we accept that the charkha forms the basis of the Constructive Program, we must pick out two other features of this program (Communal Goodwill and Social Service) which we regard as only of slightly less importance. These latter help us to decipher the real character of charkha politics. The other items in the Thirteen-Point Program are not of much significance – prohibition, scavenging, kindergarden literacy, chivalry toward women and rashtra bhasha. [2] These are the personal virtues we are abjured to cultivate. We are not much enamoured of them. We think more satisfying canons of conduct are still available for us in the good old homilies of Socrates, the Buddha, Confucius and Christ.

Charkha and Gram Udyog [3]

It is not possible to foist a program on the masses which does not in some way assuage a fundamental mass urge. If, therefore, the peasantry of our country have in the past extended a welcome to the Constructive Program, the explanation of this must be found in their conditions of existence.

British imperialism has not only destroyed the balance of their little village economic structures and subjected them to cruel exploitation through rent-exaction and direct and indirect taxation. It has dragged the peasantry into the coils of the world market and subordinated them to its vicissitudes. Driving his primitive plough on his shrinking strip of land, the Indian peasant comes directly up against all the mechanized efficiency of the foreign capitalist farm. His prices are governed by world prices. This not only depresses his standard of living, but makes it fluctuate as wildly as a seismograph in an earthquake.

It is on this predicament of the peasantry that Gandhi has closed in with his charkha and gram udyog program. He seeks to counterpose once more the self-sufficient productive framework of the ancient village community to the all-pervasiveness of the world economy. He seeks to balance the instability of primitive agricultural production with the wooden prop of the charkha and other village handicraft.

Unfortunately, it is not imperialism alone that subordinates peasant production to the needs of the world market. Native machine industry has stepped in to consolidate the process. It is true that the native bourgeoisie aspire to shield themselves behind a high tariff wall. But that is essentially a shield – a device to ward off the unfavorable repercussions of production for the world market. Furthermore, it is not imperialism alone that exploits the peasantry. The native bourgeoisie have long ago matured in that act of ravishment. The internal market (i.e., largely the peasant consumer-population) is a great source of hope for the Tatas, Birlas, Kasturbhais and their kin [native Indian capitalists] – especially when relieved from the embarrassment of world competition. The charkha and the gram udyog immediately rush up against the electric power-looms of Ahmedabad and the giant blast-furnaces of Tatanagar. In such an encounter there can be no doubt on whose side the odds lie.

Thus not only is the charkha and gram udyog program reactionary in its aspiration to resuscitate the primitive village community with its medieval standards of life. It is sterile in that it sets out to match primitive handicraft with machine industry in conditions of capitalist competition. It possesses the rare distinction of being both reactionary and Utopian.

The program, however, has deep-going political implications. In the first place it represents a carefully camouflaged endeavor to distract the attention of the middle and lower strata of the peasantry from the lands of the zamindars and rich peasant. This is a preliminary indication of its bourgeois counter-revolutionary character. In the epoch of capitalist ascendancy the necessity to unify and expand the internal market, as well as to release the productive forces from the feudal productive relations which fettered them, drove the bourgeoisie to liberate the peasants from the landlords and thus to convert both land and labor into marketable commodities. Today, in the epoch of imperialism, the epoch of capitalist decline, the bourgeoisie can no longer play this liberationist role. Capital and land, capitalist and landlord, are too closely intertwined for either to entertain homicidal intentions in regard to the other. The Indian bourgeoisie will not interfere with property relations on the land. The Indian peasant must not be encouraged to covet his landlord’s land. If he does not have sufficient land to dig even a miserable existence from, he must be taught to look elsewhere for succor. And there, for the bourgeoisie, begins the messianic role of the Mahatma and his charkha.

But the charkha and gram udyog program plays a more positive role in the service of the bourgeoisie. “Khadi” [cotton cloth] says the Mahatma in his pamphlet on the Constructive Program, “means a wholesale swadeshi [independence] mentality, a determination to find all the necessaries of life in India.” The charkha is thus the political emblem of the Indian bourgeoisie in the same sense that the hammer is the emblem of the working class and the sickle that of the peasantry. Small wonder that it is so boldly emblazoned on the bourgeois “national” flag! The charkha and gram udyog program is a powerful political weapon in the economic [4] struggle of the Indian bourgeoisie against imperialism. It is a substitute for the dangerous and incalculable method of the mass struggle. It established the native bourgeoisie on its feet especially after the boycott campaign of the early twenties. Can anyone wonder, that despite the yearly turn-out of hundreds of thousands of yards of the finest spun cloth in their own mills, the textile mill-owning millionaires are the most habitual wearers of the coarsest khadi? We will not of course mention that these devotees of the charkha have even taken to the production of “khadi” in their mills!

What Gandhi calls the center of his Constructive Program (the little wooden machine that spins his webs for the imperialists, his sophistries for the intelligentsia and his clap-trap for the masses) is none other than the center of the bourgeois struggle for control over the internal market and the mass movement; a treacherous, reactionary and utopian device to frustrate a fundamental mass urge in the guise of pandering to it. That urge is the urge of the peasantry to overthrow existing property relations on the land as a means of emancipating themselves from the choking tyranny of the world market.

Communal Goodwill

The masses cannot wait until the Mahatma constructs his pattern of freedom for them on his charkha. Freedom, for them, is neither a mere slogan nor a desirable ideal. Freedom, for them, is an imperative necessity – to do away as speedily as possible with all forms of exaction, exploitation and tyranny. While the charkha spun on, the cauldron of mass revolt was on the boil.

The communal problem is in essence an expression of this phenomenon. Its very virulence is an index to the turbulence of mass discontent. Its distorted appearance does not negate the fact that, at root, it is an expression of the class struggle.

The land-owning upper classes of India and the more subservient section of the native bourgeoisie had no reason to conceal their alarm at the depth and power of the mass movement which the nationalist bourgeoisie attempted to harness to their class needs. The Muslim upper classes in particular (they were more parasitical in proportion as they lacked a big industrial bourgeoisie) feared the accumulating wrath of the Muslim peasantry in the countryside and the vast mass of unemployed and underemployed petty bourgeoisie in the towns. The powers and privileges they derived from their alliance with British imperialism were, moreover, endangered by the political aspirations of the nationalist bourgeoisie. It was necessary to attack the mass movement – for an attack on the mass movement would not only disorient the masses but would equally weaken the only sanction of the bourgeoisie against imperialism. That attack took the form of Muslim communalism, drugged with separatist demands, and delivered through the intellectual medium of the job-hunting Muslim intelligentsia.

Muslim communalism was in fact the solution of the Muslim upper classes to the sharpening class antagonism of Indian society. In form it was a piercing flank attack on the anti-imperialist mass movement. Every betrayal of the mass struggle by its leaders was a signal for a communal counter-offensive, leading to further disorientation and prostration of the masses. Communalism thus became a powerful weapon in the hands of the imperialists. Every defeat, every betrayal, every postponement of the anti-imperialist struggle widened the communal rift and strengthened the communalists. But inasmuch as the crisis of imperialist society in India cannot be solved under its aegis and every defeat of the masses is an education for the future, the gathering proportions of mass revolt had reduced the communalists to greater and more complete dependence on the imperialists. So complete is this dependence that the liquidation of the communal problem can only ensue on the prior liquidation of imperialism in India.

Muslim communalism also derived an initial impulse and sustained impetus from the reactionary politics of bourgeois nationalism. Rationalism was the philosophy of the bourgeoisie needing to liberate the peasantry from the control of a feudal church in the period of capitalism’s rise. In the epoch of the decline of capitalism the bourgeoisie need not to liberate but to harness the peasantry to their yoke. Hindu revivalism is the philosophy of one such bourgeoisie, for Hinduism has had no peer in its ability to inhibit the most fundamental urges of the masses. Hence, under Lokmanya Tilak, the real ancestor of hysterical Hindu communalism, bourgeois nationalism took on a decidedly Hindu coloration. In the hands of Gandhi the process was further extended and deepened. It was a simple sadhu [5] that bourgeois nationalism dangled before the masses of the peasantry, who flocked in their hundreds and thousands to receive his dharshan. [6] It mattered little to the illiterate, Muslim masses that the sadhu was able to recite the Koran or quote from the Bible. That sort of dope they could get in higher quality and greater quantity within their own mosques.

Himself responsible to a certain extent for the strengthening of Muslim communalism, the Mahatma aspires to solve by religious methods what is in essence an expression of the class struggle and in form a political counter-attack. His method is that of “unbreakable heart unity.” The communal problem to him is not a strategical problem in the setting of the anti-imperialist campaign. It is not an imperialist counter-attack on the mass movement. It is a personal problem. The hearts of both Hindus and Muslims are somehow not in the right place. They have first to set their hearts right so that there may no more be “Hindu water or Muslim tea.”

As always, the religious formulation conceals a political maneuver. The endeavor is to find an agreed formula between the landlords and princes of the Muslim League and the industrial bourgeoisie of the Congress – a formula which will divide the spoils of office under imperialist patronage and thus present a united front of the exploiters, in control of the armed resources of the State, against the accumulating forces of mass revolt below. One failure, or two, to win the Qaid-e-Azam [7] does not discourage the Mahatma. While the masses keep straining to get their hearts into place he is at least certain that real unity will be prevented – unity of the masses against their exploiters along the lines of the class struggle.

Social Service

Neither the charkha maneuver of Gandhi, nor the communal maneuver of imperialism can halt for one single moment the process of the class struggle. And though the Mahatma may refuse to recognize the class struggle, the class struggle never fails to recognize the Mahatma. Kind and sensitive man that he is, he cannot ignore that recognition. He winks back at it, in the form of social service. Social service is Gandhi’s answer to the class struggle. He continually warns against “violent and bloody revolution.” He preaches (to the poor masses to be sure!) “voluntary abdication of riches and the power that riches give.” Meantime he advises the masses to live at peace with their masters, i.e., to collaborate with their exploiters. To help the masses to accept his advice he has his program of social service.

We are not here concerned with the motivation of humanitarian social service. The Mahatma’s heart may be as bottomless as the caverns of hell – in its sympathy for the poor. We are here concerned to demonstrate the reactionary social orientation of humanitarianism itself. Inasmuch as the class struggle is fundamental to class-society and ineradicable within it, the attempt to moderate its harshness on the exploited classes, and by these means to distract their attention from it, is not only futile but is to enter into the service of the exploiters themselves. If Gandhist society is the same thing as the egalitarian society, the social objective must be not to subject the masses to less exploitation, but to free them from exploitation altogether. The latter is certainly not the object of the Mahatma. He thereby demonstrates how completely he is in the service of the bourgeoisie. Sweet faces and angel graces are not beyond “riches and the power that riches give.”

Role of Non-Violence

One feature in common all three principles of the Constructive Program contain: in the guise of serving a fundamental urge of the masses, each of them seeks to frustrate it. The charkha pretends to serve the desire of the peasantry to emancipate themselves from the world market but fastens over them the strangle-hold of the native bourgeoisie and ultimately, of the very world market they were seeking to avoid. Communal heart unity pretends to lay down the basis for a united offensive of the masses against British imperialism, whereas in reality it deflects the masses away from the anti-imperialist struggle and fastens the death-grip of imperialism upon them. Social service aspires to elevate the economic and cultural level of the masses but in reality perpetuates the system of semi-feudal exploitation that holds them down. The common feature is not directly attributable to deliberate deceit on the part of the Mahatma. We do not know, nor do we care, whether even indirectly it is so. What is pertinent is that the manifest contradiction between object and result springs from the single unifying factor in the whole distraught philosophy of Gandhism – non violence. For, says the oracle himself “the constructive program may otherwise and more fittingly be called construction of Puma Swaraj or Complete Independence by truthful and non-violent means.” The Constructive Program is the non-violent road to swaraj [independence]. The basic unifying force of the whole Constructive Program, as of the whole theory and practice of Gandhism, is non-violence.

Force or violence is the final sanction of law. The imperialist state is organized violence. To overthrow the imperialist state is to counterpose to its own violence a superior violence. This superior violence can only come from the intervention of a foreign state or by the intervention of the masses on the political arena. Revolution is the method of the defeat of the violence of the state by the superior violence of the masses. Truly does the Mahatma characterise revolution as “violent and bloody.”

Non-violence is defined by the Mahatma as “a process of conversion.” In other words, non-violence is concerned with the individuals, not with the system. To the violence of the imperialist state (the Mahatma once called it “leonine”) nonviolence replies with moral pressure on the state official. It tries to “change the heart” of the state official, i.e. to move him to pity, and thence to understanding, by self-suffering. Thus, non-violence does not challenge the authority of the imperialist state, but seeks to change its manifestations. By denying the right of the masses to counterpose their own violence to the violence of the state (the final sanction of all laws), non-violence subordinates the masses to the authority (i.e., violence) of the imperialist state. The method of non-violence (apart from its political content) is at best reformist, not revolutionary. That is to say, it operates entirely within the imperialist system. Whatever the phraseology of its advocates, non-violence cannot seek to overthrow the imperialist system. The strategy of reformism is pressure strategy. Violence, or overthrow strategy, is the strategy of revolution. Whether for pressure or for overthrow the mass struggle is necessary. But should the mass struggle develop along violent lines (i.e., should it direct itself toward the overthrow of the state), the collapse of the imperialist state will be accompanied by the collapse of the property forms it maintained – the native bourgeoisie being too weak to maintain their property either against imperialism or against the masses. The mass struggle must, therefore, be forced into the strait jacket of non-violence, so that bourgeois property be maintained. Herein lies the basic contradiction, the double faced character of nonviolence. It is clothed with revolutionary phraseology and purports to save the masses from imperialism. But it actually serves counter-revolutionary purposes, for it dams and deflects the mass struggle, and saves imperialism from the masses.

Saboteur Strategy

The mass struggle that began in August ’42, despite nearly a quarter of a century of preaching on the part of the Mahatma, was openly and quite unashamedly a violent struggle. The masses, at the very outset of the struggle, sloughed off the straightjacket of non-violence in which the bourgeoisie had sought to imprison them. They thereby demonstrated to the world the scant esteem in which non-violence was held by them. That was their way of asserting that their road to the overthrow of the imperialist state was the road of violence, of class struggle, of revolution.

Who need wonder at the panic of the native bourgeoisie who quite early deserted the struggle and attempted to stop it, and of the Mahatma who today denounces it and disclaims all responsibility for it? Never again will they attempt to use the mass struggle to browbeat imperialism – not if they can help it. The Mahatma, therefore, puts forward his Constructive Program not as a preparation for civil disobedience, but “as an alternative road to Swaraj.” So important is this “alternative road,” that he threatened to fast if his disciples did not accept it. So important is it, that behind its immense firepower has been also brought up the heavy artillery of the Rs 1½ crores [approx. $350,000] Kasturba Fund (more social service!). To sabotage the revolutionary mass movement from without by forcing on it once again the strait jacket of nonviolence which it had decisively rejected – that is the strategy of the Constructive Program.

But the strait jacket will stay on only so long as the masses do not enter the arena of direct struggle. Hence the Constructive Program seeks also to sabotage the mass struggle from within, to destroy the existing class organizations of the masses. The Constructive Program has, therefore, recently been extended. Separate programs have been prescribed for workers, for kisans and for students, so that each of them may contribute to the “construction of swaraj.” It is not necessary here to deal with these in detail. Suffice it to say that “construction of swaraj” means today, in 1945, for the Mahatma:

  1. the destruction of the class independence of the trade unions, through the “construction” of rival company unions (as at Ahmedabad) and the enticement of functioning unions away from the Trade Union Congress into the openly class-collaborationist Hindustan Mazdoor Sevak Sangh.
  2. the smashing of the class independence of the kisan sabhas [peasant unions] through the “construction” of a Kisan Congress, dominated and controlled by the National Congress, i.e., under the kindly patronage of the upper classes, both bourgeois and landlord.
  3. an ideological offensive against Marxism under cover of a drive against Stalinism, and the reduction of student organizations to ideological servility to the bourgeoisie through the “construction” of a Students’ Congress which will “keep all politics out” – except Gandhian superstition and Utopian revivalism.

More immediately, the Constructive Program is designed to prepare the ground for the coming surrender-settlement with British imperialism. It is not the first occasion on which the Mahatma fled precipitate before a mass offensive on the imperialist state, to bury himself ostensibly in social uplift, and religious regeneration. At least one previous public performance has history been afforded of this identical stage-trick. Especially after the calling off of the struggle of the earlier thirties did the Mahatma appear to vanish from the political scene, under the pretext of devoting himself entirely to the cause of the Harijans [untouchables]. What he actually achieved every Indian in his ‘teens already knows: the thwarting of the mass-struggle and the preparation, step by step, of the Congress for eventual coolie-service on behalf of British imperialism. The objective is no different on this occasion. While the Tatas, Birlas and Kasturbhais employ the aid of imperialist capital and technique in the more intensive exploitation of the masses, while the Munshis and the Rajagopalachariars [extreme right wing leaders of Congress party] employ the imperialist police to shoot down striking workers and bludgeon rebellious peasants, and throw militant fighters against imperialism into imperialist jails with the help of the imperialist penal code, the Mahatma will be pacifying the masses and shepherding them along the “constructive” road to swaraj – building “swaraj” within the imperialist system! The vision is almost idyllic. The reality reeks of rank insidious treachery.

The Constructive Program [8] aims to sabotage the anti-imperialist mass struggle now and for good.

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1. Spinning wheel.

2. All-India language.

3. Village reconstruction.

4. Landlord.

5. Hermit.

6. Revelation.

7. Moslem League Leader.

8. There are those who say they have accepted the Constructive Programme because they regard it as the sole means (within prevalent conditions of imperialist repression) of restoring: the brutally battered morale of the masses and thus of preparing for the next wave of mass struggle. It is not for us to point out that to entertain this belief is to doubt the veracity of a leader who proclaims truth as his most important weapon against imperialism. The Mahatma has explicitly repudiated even the thought of it. It is not merely that we believe him here. It is impossible for us to conceive how an overtly anti-struggle program, demonstrably reactionary in content, can either revive the morale of masses frustrated in open struggle, or prepare them for the struggles of the future. The task of reviving the masses for further struggle is the task of leading them along the road of their limited and most Immediate demands and thus of helping them in the consolidation of their ranks.

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