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Workers’ International News, July 1939


Ajit Roy

Ferment in India


From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.7, July 1939, pp.6-8.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The debacle of the Chinese Revolution of 1926-27 has one important lesson for the international socialist movement. It is that in a colonial or semi-colonial country where capitalist methods of production have taken root, the anti-imperialist movement has to count not only with the foreign power or powers but with the united pro-imperialist front of native capitalists and representatives of feudalism. This lesson which is fundamental for the theoretical equipment of every colonial revolutionary is given additional support by the history of the development of Indian politics during the last two years.

But India differs from China in the fact that while the Chinese Kuo-Min-Tang fully exposed itself only in course of a civil war, the National Congress of the Indian capitalists has exposed itself in front of the masses long before the revolutionary movement has reached its pitch. From 1911 to 1927 when the Kuo-Min-Tang finally began the systematic slaughtering of Chinese workers and peasants, it had been moving more and more to the left. Its metamorphosis, when it was completed in 1927, from “the united anti-imperialist front of the Chinese people” to the counter-revolutionary organ of the Chinese propertied classes was, so far as the masses were concerned, sharp and sudden. But not so with the Indian National Congress. To-day, in a pre-revolutionary situation, it stands completely exposed. An understanding of this difference is necessary for a correct appraisal of the course of future development of Indian politics.

In 1937, the Indian National Congress agreed to take charge of the governments of 7 out of the 11 provinces in which India is divided for administrative purposes. An eighth one was subsequently added to the list when a coalition Congress Ministry was formed in Assam under the inspiration of Mr. Subhas Bose, the then President of the Congress. The Congress was able to form ministries by virtue of its numerical preponderance in the provincial legislatures. On the strength of an election manifesto, in which they had pledged themselves to an uncompromising struggle against British Rule and in which they had promised great economic reforms for the benefit of the workers and peasants, the Congress leaders had secured the whole-hearted support of the peasantry and the urban middle classes in the elections. The masses were not told, however, that the Congress would enter the governments if they were returned in a majority. On the other hand, they were assured by them and their agents, the Nehrus and Boses, that the sole purpose in contesting the elections was that of “smashing the slave constitution” which imposed a new tyranny over the masses.

It was with no little surprise, therefore, that the masses learned that the Congress leaders had decided to form ministries in those provinces where they form a majority in the legislatures. To soothe the feelings of the membership whose suspicions had been roused, the leaders let it be known that they had accepted office only in the interest of developing the mass struggles outside the Parliaments. “We must capture every vantage-point in the interest of the coming and decisive struggle against imperialism.” That was the explanation put out.

More than two years have passed since then and enough has taken place to teach the masses, out of their own experience, the utter folly of placing faith in the pronunciamentos of bourgeois politicians. Many of them, as they lay dead or dying in the streets of Bombay or Sholapur from the solid “patriotic” bullets of Congress Governments, will not be able to take advantage of their experience. Others, and hundreds of them, shut up in Congress prisons will have to wait before they can put the lessons of their experience to actual practice.

The bourgeoisie, once in office, refused to initiate any great changes in the old method of government. True, the majority of political prisoners have been released. But new victims have taken their places and popular agitation for securing their release is being discouraged by the Congress leaders. The imperialist state machinery, basing itself upon the Army and the Police with its network of spies and agents provocateur, continues to run its ancient course, picking up at a village here or a factory there the most devoted champions of the masses of workers and peasants. When asked for an explanation by the still bewildered masses the Right Honourable Congress Ministers reply with solemnity, “The Congress Government cannot tolerate any threats to Law and Order.”

Therein lies the essence of the problem. The native propertied classes have realised well enough that they cannot countenance any serious mass movement against the system of imperialist law and order without at the same time endangering their own class interests. They had called the masses to support their own struggle against Imperialism. The Imperial Government, representing the interests of British capital and finance, first prohibited and later thwarted the development of Indian capitalism. With its financial manipulations, its unjust exchange ratio, its Ottawa pacts and various other means it had imposed strict limitations on the aspirations of the Indian capitalist class. But the Indian capitalists, through all their struggle against such limitations, never meant to lead an anti-imperialist revolution. They needed the soothing presence of the British Army and the efficiency of the imperialist Police to deal with their own masses when they began to press for their own demands. Their dream was that of Dominion Status and of an equal partnership with London Finance in the business of exploiting Indian labour and peasants.

The swift development of the international crisis and the approach of the World War has put fear into the, hearts of the Birlas, the Dalmias and the big magnates of Indian capitalism. “Hang on to Whitehall,” is their present slogan. Their political representatives immediately catch it up. They begin to assure the masses that the old days of struggle and strife are gone for ever. Victory has been already achieved and all they need do to enjoy its fruits is to have patience, have faith in Congress Ministries and not to start any new movement which may force the hands of Congress Ministers into shooting them down or putting them behind prison bars. The following statement of Mr. Gandhi, the foremost representative of the Indian capitalists, puts it very clearly. In an interview for the American Press, the Mahatma (the Great-Soul) declared:

“The outsider may not realise the fact that the majority of the provinces of British India are administered by the Nationalists, by Ministers of he Congress Party. That roughly shows that the nationalist movement is already in the seats of political power in the country.”

The betrayal, however, by the bourgeois leaders of their middle-class following in the Congress has led to a crisis of the first magnitude in this venerable organisation. This crisis is intensified by the fact that it has coincided with a new upsurge in the movement of the workers and peasants against their own exploiters. The number of strikes in Indian factories during the last twelve months and the number of workers participating in them are greater than in any year since 1920. In Assam,, the strike of the 10,000 oil field workers has been going on for more than three months in spite of all the brutalities of the military (4 workers shot dead). In Cawnpore, a leading industrial centre, 60,000 cotton workers are preparing for their third big strike in two years. The peasantry, which had been marking time since the accession to office of the Congress, (contenting itself with organising imposing demonstrations and deputations to the Ministers, in order, as they said, to strengthen the hands of their friends, the ministers), is now feeling its way to direct action against the landlords as the only method of redressing its grievances. The prisons of Bihar and Central Provinces are being rapidly filled up with peasant agitators.

The crisis inside the Congress came into prominence early this year in the form of a struggle for power between Mr. Subhas Bose and his colleagues who formed the majority within the Working Committee of the Congress. The struggle was in essence one between the big bourgeois and the petit-bourgeois tendencies inside the Congress. The urban middle-class, ruined by unemployment and low wages caused by the low level of capitalist development of the country, had gained nothing from the Congress ministries. Bose, representing the growing disillusionment of the middle-class, came forward to denounce the politics of the bourgeois leadership. Against the wishes of Mr. Gandhi and the majority of the Working Committee he stood for re-election to the Presidentship and in a statement warned the rank and file that every vote against him was a vote in favour of imperialism. The rank and file returned him with a majority, rejecting the personal nominee of Gandhi.

But Bose, like all Left-Wing leaders in colonial movements, was constitutionally incapable of leading a real struggle against the big bourgeois leaders. Throughout history this type of man, the Hu Han Mins and Wang Ching Weis of China and Bose in India, have played a consistent role. They are capable of making grand denunciatory gestures and of giving an edge to a political crisis which they had not foreseen. But when the hour of decisive struggle approaches, they are nowhere to be seen near the battle-field. You will find them generally at some safe distance making long distance calls to their determined opponents about the necessity of unity and co-operation. No sooner had Bose been elected than he declared that he could not do without the Right Wing. In a notorious statement issued to the Press, he declared that he did not want the Right to leave the Congress but to remain and “lead them.”

But the bourgeoisie was not prepared to compromise. The international situation would not tolerate any compromise. Working for a compromise with imperialism, they could not afford a compromise with their petit-bourgeois following.

Bose’s capitulation only served to sow confusion among his followers. The result was seen in the annual conference of the Congress where the Right was able to dictate a resolution which amounted to a vote of no confidence in the President.

Since then, Mr. Bose has resigned from the Presidency and started a ‘Forward Bloc’ inside the Congress which aims at pursuing the futile Menshevik tactics of pushing the unwilling bourgeoisie along the revolutionary road which it is historically incapable of following.

The crisis exposed not only the weaknesses and vacillations of petit-bourgeois radical leaders. It exposed also very clearly, the rottenness and bankruptcy of the Congress Socialists leaders and the Stalinists inside the Congress.

The Congress Socialist leaders, while supporting the candidature of Bose, had lost all appetite for fighting by the time the struggle was carried into the annual conference of the Congress. They decided to remain neutral in the attack of the Right Wing on the President. Instead of giving a lead to the petit-bourgeois revolt against the reactionaries, the Congress Socialists, mouthing phrases about “National Unity,” left them to fight the battle single-handed and without any theoretical equipment. The party thereby doomed itself in the eyes of the Radical Congress workers. Resignations have since poured in from all over the country and it has succeeded in saving itself only by drawing closer to the big bourgeoisie. The following statement of Mr. Gandhi is again revealing. “We (Congress Socialists and myself) are coming nearer to one another. Either they are being drawn to me or I am being drawn to them.” In an article entitled Gandhism and Socialism, published in the party organ, Mr. Masani, the Secretary of the party, makes the interesting revelation that there are fundamental similarities between Gandhism and Socialism. This similarity referred to by Mr. Masani is derived from a statement by Mr. Gandhi, that like the Socialists, he also stood for collective ownership of the means of production. There is, however, a little difference which Mr. Masani in his efforts to make Gandhism palatable for the masses had overlooked. Socialism, in Gandhi’s scheme of things, must be brought about by changing the hearts of the millionaires and by “making them trustees for the poor,” and he tolerates no violence, outspokenly condemning the violence of workers’ and peasants’ struggles, and turning the blind eye to the violent suppression of those struggles.

Now let us observe the Indian Stalinists in action through one of the critical phases of Indian politics. The only difference between the Congress Socialists and the Stalinists was that while the former remained neutral, the latter voted against the resolution. It appears, however, that the decision of the Stalinist leaders to vote against the resolution was a last-minute decision made in breach of a previous agreement with the Congress Socialists not to oppose it. That was the only gesture which they were capable of making against the Right. They had no policy of their own; they took their cue from the bourgeoisie and voted en masse for the platitudinous verbiage which went by the name of the Resolution on National Demand. They had no alternative resolutions nor did they put forward any amendments, Since then, the Stalinists have blamed Mr. Meher Ali, one of the leading lights of the Congress Socialist Party, who, they protest, for some unaccountable reason withdrew the amendment which had been jointly agreed to by the CSP and themselves. That does not seem to have upset the leaders very much since they have been continuing to shout about “Unity” and “National Front” in the approved Stalinist fashion. The petit-bourgeoisie which had begun to take a new interest in Socialism since the inauguration of the Five Year Plan is greatly disillusioned with Moscow. This is how Forward, a radical bourgeois paper, sums up the Stalinists:

“Until the very eve of the Congress, one of the. principal slogans of the Communists was not only ‘Unity of the Left’ but `formation of a Left Bloc.’ In the crisis that developed after the Presidential election, the slogan given by the Communists was, ‘Maintain the unity of the Congress and move forward.’ Does this slogan exclude the unity of the left which has been sabotaged by the shameful capitulation of the CSP encouraged by the pusillanimity of the Communists themselves?”

Forward then accuses the Stalinists of opportunism, chicken-heartedness and confusion of thought and thereby reveals its own intellectual bankruptcy; for the Stalinists betray the anti-imperialist movement not because of “confusion of thought” but because the betrayal is necessitated by the requirements of the foreign policy of the Soviet bureaucracy which cannot tolerate any revolution anywhere in the world to-day.

The Indian bourgeoisie is to-day the undisputed master of the Home Front. During private talks between Mr. Gandhi and the Viceroy, the mill-owners and Mr. Gandhi, and Mr. Gandhi and the Congress leaders, the ground is being secretly prepared for India’s participation in the coming imperialist war. In order to prepare themselves for further struggles they have now initiated certain changes in the Congress organisation which will enable them to drive out of the Congress all the blocs and leagues which petit-bourgeoise radicalism is busily building up.

In China, the abandonment of the workers and peasants to the Kuo Min Tang led to the Shanghai massacre. Unity with the Congress will mean the same fate for the Indian masses. It will mean, in the end, one united neck of the workers and peasantry under the imperialist axe.

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