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Workers’ International News, August 1939


Ajit Roy

Congress Socialism


From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.8, August 1939, pp.5-8.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Congress Socialist Party of India is passing through an internal crisis. The latest event in this crisis is the resignation of M.R. Masani, Joint Secretary of the Party, Asoke Mehta, Rammanohar Lohia and Achut Patawardhana from the Central Committee.

Unwillingness to support the “Forward Bloc” – a bloc of left groupings inside the Indian National Congress initiated by the radical ex-President Subhas Bose – and the domination of the Stalinist Party are among the reasons cited in the statement issued to the press by the four stalwarts of the Congress Socialist Party.

On the question of the formation of left blocs inside the Indian National Congress, the signatories state that “any crystallisation of the left nationalist elements in the Congress into an organisation would be a blow to the national movement, both because it divides the Congress into rigid and mutually exclusive blocs and because the process of radicalisation itself would be retarded,” if it is given an organised form. The Congress Socialist Party, according to these gentlemen, should continue its traditional function of seeking to influence and move the Congress as a whole.

The significance of the present crisis inside the Congress Socialist Party can only be understood in the light of the larger crisis in Indian society as a whole and inside the Congress itself.

The present situation in India is characterised by a tremendous upsurge of the peasant movement both in British India and in the Native States. In some parts, particularly in Behar, the movement has almost taken the form of an agrarian uprising. The present agrarian movement is based on a higher level of peasant class-consciousness. Ten years ago the peasants knew no better way of fighting its enemies than that of passive non-resistance. In the United Provinces in 1932, for example, “the tenants preferred to give away their land and renounce their rights rather than to pay the rent which under present conditions has become excessively high. Consequently the number of deserted holdings for the year grew from 20,860 to 71,430 while the number of forced collections of the land tax amounted to 256,284 (Bombay Chronicle, January 26, 1933). Since then the Indian peasant has advanced far. Take this example reported in the Behar paper, Searchlight, July 29, 1939:

“On the 24th July, with about 500 military police and 200 hired men, 50 ploughs and a posse of state officials, Babu Shantinathjha, the landlord, raided a village called Sagarpur to replough the ploughed Bakast land in possession of tenants and sow seeds. He was met by 20 peasants and Kisan Sabha (Peasant Congress) workers who went to the spot to prevent the landlord’s men from re-ploughing the land. They are reported to have been ‘roughly handled’ by the landlord’s hooligans. On this they shouted ‘Inklab Jindbad’ (Long live revolution) whereupon the landlord shouted, ‘Down with the Red Flag!’”

“Six of the peasants were severely wounded, they were taken to the hospital but were not admitted and remained lying outside the hospital the whole night. This was followed up by an action by the landlord against the 20. The peasants refused to furnish bail, on the ground that the landlord had not right to dispossess them. On this occasion the paper reports ‘thousands of peasants, men and women, greeted the jail-goers with the usual Kisan slogans. The magistrate was annoyed and ordered the police to clear the court compound. The police thereupon began to push indiscriminately and one Mahabir Jha, a Kisan Sabha worker who was enthusiastically shouting slogans, was badly pushed and fell down. He protested and was taken to the magistrate who asked him to give a written statement. He was further asked to furnish bail, which he refused, and went to jail amidst cries of ‘Inklab Zindbad,’ ‘Angrezi Raj Nas Ho’ (Down with the British Government), and ‘Kizan Raj Nas Ho’ (Let us establish a peasant government).”

Incidents like this happen almost daily. On June 10th it was reported in the same paper:

“... the Kisan Sabha members have launched civil disobedience in the village Dekuli in connection with Bakast land dispute. They went into the land and took away crops which were lying in custody of the police. They have also freely cultivated landlord’s land and it is said, assaulted some of the landlord’s men who went to prevent them. Military police have now been stationed in the village.”

There is little of passive resistance in all this!

This immense development of the class struggle in the villages as well as in the industrial areas reflects itself in the crisis within the National Congress, the most powerful organisation in India to-day. The crisis is the inevitable consequence of the growing contradiction between the rising militancy of the masses and the increasingly reactionary and pro-imperialist policy of the bourgeois leadership. The rank and file Congress members, drawn principally from the petit-bourgeois section of the community are drawing farther and farther away from the leadership and seeking a way out. In the absence of any guidance from the Socialist and Stalinist leaders, they had to accept whatever meagre leadership was forthcoming from other quarters. Many of them sought refuge in the League of Radical Congressmen of Mr. M.N. Roy; others have allied themselves with the “Forward Bloc” of Mr. Subhas Chandra Bose, a radical bourgeois nationalist leader.

The annual session of the Congress was essentially a trial of strength between the petit bourgeois malcontents and the bourgeois leadership. The latter, fully aware of the struggle that lay ahead were determined to strengthen their grip on the Congress organisation. They invited and carried through a series of resolutions the general effect of which has been to give dictatorial powers to the small ruling clique.

Let us take first the principal resolution of the last Annual Conference. This resolution re-affirmed the faith of the Congress in the leadership of Mr. Gandhi and his associates, stated that Gandhi alone could lead the national movement and ended by directing the President to nominate the Working Committee, the highest executive organ of the Congress according to the directions of Mr. Gandhi. It is worth noting that Mr. Gandhi is not himself a member of the Congress.

This was quickly followed by a resolution on civil disobedience as the only method of struggle sanctioned by the Congress. This resolution, passed at the last session of the All India Congress, states that “no Congressmen may offer or practice any civil disobedience movement without the previous sanction of the provincial Congress Committee.” As the provincial committees are controlled by the leadership, and as most of the peasant leaders are members of the Congress, this means in effect the suppression of the Kisan movement. This was followed by another resolution which released the Congress Ministers from the control of the Congress Committees and in fact subordinated the Congress organisations to the ministries and through them to the imperialists. The ministers, declared Mr. Patel, “cannot carry on in the present way. Outsiders (Congress Committees) cannot interfere in administrative affairs.” The Congress Committees, as a saving grace are allowed to “meet the minister concerned for the redress of grievances.” The bourgeoisie having climbed to the top over the heads of the masses is now kicking at those heads.

The crisis within the CSP is caused by the same set of forces which has brought about the crisis within the Congress. The growing incompatibility between the shift in the class relationships and the policy of the party has produced an internal explosion. Shutting its eyes obstinately to the class issues involved, clinging like drowning men to the long exploded idea of a non-class anti-imperialist front, the colonial equivalent of the People’s Front, without any faith in the revolutionary initiative and resourcefulness of the masses, seeing in the developing class struggle only dangerous symptoms, the CSP leaders were completely paralysed.

At the annual session of the Congress when the main resolution already referred to came up, the CSP leadership decided to adopt neutrality, revealing thereby its essential centrist character. The leaders were still hoping for a unity which had been shattered long ago as soon as the peasantry had begun to take direct action. The bourgeois leaders did not want unity, they wanted to isolate the peasantry and to crush it. A large section of the peasant workers, trade unionists and the representatives of the town middle classes had sensed the danger and would have followed a revolutionary lead. The only two lone voices pleading for unity were those of the Congress Socialists and the Stalinists.

It often happens that effects seem disproportionate to the cause. It has happened in this case. The single decision of the CSP has thoroughly disorganised the Party. From the organisational point of view the set-back was considerable. Resignations came pouring in from all over India. The rank and file, who had not been consulted before the decision was adopted, threw up all discipline. The Associated Press reports that the Executive has taken disciplinary action against Mr. Suresh Chandra Hannerji, President of the All India Trade Union Congress and Mr. Deben Sen, a prominent member, for having openly flouted party discipline in publicly criticising the party attitude at the last Congress.

From the point of view of influence over the more advanced section of the masses, the results have proved even more disastrous. To cite an example: at a meeting of the Executive Council of the Behar Provincial Press Workers’ Federation on April 22, a resolution was adopted which runs as follows:

“It is the considered opinion of the Executive Council of the Federation that the Congress Socialist Party or the Communists betrayed the cause of revolutionary nationalism at the Tripuri Congress by remaining neutral on the Pant resolution. This meeting warns the workers of India to beware of these so-called socialists who profess to be monopolists of radicalism but who are simply the left arm of Mr. Gandhi.”

Indeed the capitulation of the CSP to the bourgeois reactionaries was the inevitable product of the entire past history of the party. A socialist party which voluntarily denied the claim of representing a particular class, a party which announces itself on the radicalising agency of the Congress and at the same time refuses to face up to the reactionary and counter-revolutionary character of the native bourgeois leadership can only find its place in the garbage bins of history. It is the lot of every party to make mistakes but the revolutionary character of a party is determined by its attitude towards its mistakes. By the fact that even up to this day the CSP leaders refuse to recognise the disastrous character of their policy shows that the policy was not due to mistake but flowed from the inherent rottenness of the Party. Mr. B.P. Sinha, a leading member of the Party, openly accuses those who criticise the party:

“Not for mere ornament or petty political advantages did we attach the name of the Congress to our party. It is unfair to accuse us now of wanting to carry the whole of the Congress forward.” (Congress Socialist, March 26).

Later on, however, this staunch revolutionary lets the cat out of the bag.

“It does not matter very much,” he writes, “who does it (prepare the country for the fight) as long as the work is being done. Mahatma Gandhi is prepared to lead the fight so let us add strength to his elbow and give him what help we can. What else can we do?

Rammohan Lohia, one of the leading theoreticians, talking about the possibility of a split in the Congress, informs us that such talk is loose and dangerous and finds solace in the vision that “all major groups in the Congress are advancing and the difference among them lies in their type and rate of progress.”

So the difference between Gandhism and Socialism is one that concerns their “rate of progress.” Let us turn to Mr. Patel, Mr. Gandhi’s closest associate. Thirteen months ago Mr. Patel expressed himself thus on the peasant movement:

“If bad landlords do not mend their ways they will themselves meet their doom. But why should we strike a blow at them and create a poisonous atmosphere?”

Now Mr. Lohia would have us believe that the difference between Mr. Patel and a Socialist is to be found in their relative “rate of progress.”

This brings us back to the point where we started out from. Mr. Lohia along with the three others has resigned from the party leadership. This is the result of a split within the leading ranks. A section of the leadership under the inspiration of Mr. Jaiprakash Narain sees a way out of the doldrums into which the party has drifted by closer association with Mr. Bose and his Forward Bloc. This is the majority view which has prevailed. With the adhesion of the CSP, the Stalinists and Mr. M.N. Roy’s League of Radical Congressmen, the “Forward Bloc” has been renamed the Left Consolidation Committee. Side by side with this new line Mr. Narain has established extremely friendly relations with the Stalinists both inside and outside his party. The minority section represented by Masani finds the solution in a closer and more intimate association with the bourgeois leadership. It is difficult as yet to gauge the extent to which the Stalinists have managed to get control over the organisation. But that they are busy consolidating their position cannot be doubted.

The logical result of the present trend of the party is the merger with the Stalinist organisation. But Jaiprakash and his associates may find the price too heavy to pay. The party may then again swing back to the Masani trend. This is an eventuality which cannot be ruled out. But the “present position of being a party without a mind or to put it better, a party with another party’s mind is insufferable and must end soon.”

Whichever way ultimately is adopted it is certain that the party as such is incapable or developing in a revolutionary direction. It is time for the revolutionary elements inside it to make a serious appraisal of their position. Without a revolutionary party the anti-imperialist movement cannot succeed. It is time they asked themselves this question: “How is such a party to be built?”

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