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Workers’ International News, August 1943


Ajit Roy

India – The Role of Congress Leaders


From Workers’ International News, Vol.5 No.12, August 1943, pp.5-7.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


After twelve months of anxiety and misgivings, the imperialist bondholders of India once more rest comfortably in their beds. For the revolutionary wave which swept, through the country in the months following August last, has begun to decline.

The crisis, however, has only been postponed. The general economic position of the masses of the people shows no signs of improvement. Millions continue to stiffer from famine and starvation. Neither has the grip of totalitarian repression been relaxed. The number of political prisoners has reached the enormous total of 20,000, and new victims continue daily to be added to the list. But all this notwithstanding, since the beginning of the current year, the number of strikes and demonstrations in the industrial cities and peasant uprisings in the villages, have been steadily falling off. The period of mass revolutionary activity has for the time being, subsided. There are those who are wont to explain every popular defeat with the easy formula: “The enemy was too powerful.” Against such people, the enemy will, always be too powerful. Marxism, on the other hand, demands the most honest and conscientious analysis of every aspect of defeat, as a fundamental prerequisite for final victory. Least of all does this fatalistic formula suffice as an explanation of the development of India, events during the last 12 months. If British imperialism has succeeded in weathering the first waves of the storm, it was not primarily because of the superior forces at its disposal.

Admittedly, one significant feature the past year, was the use by the Viceroy’s Government of force to an extent and character not previously known in India. For the first time, their power was systematically and ruthlessly employed against the peasant masses, armed with the most rudimentary weapons and often completely unarmed. But this was because the revolt, especially in the centres of the agrarian movement, had assumed such sweeping proportions that the old technique of suppression had proved to be entirely inadequate. Over large areas of Bihar, Orissa, Central Provinces and Bengal, the task which faced the “guardians of democracy” was no longer the suppression of sporadic and local uprisings, but the subjugation and reconquest of large territories in which British administration had been totally destroyed.

The basic cause of defeat lay in the fact that the Indian masses were faced with two enemies of which they saw only one. They were saddled with a leadership which looked upon their victory as the greatest possible disaster. When in August last year, Mr. Gandhi and his colleagues in the Congress Executive assented to the inauguration of a new mass movement, the last thing they had in mind was to carry through to a victorious conclusion, the revolutionary uprising which they knew was inevitable. They could not fail to see that a mass movement in India today, would not leave untouched the sacred property rights of the industrialists and landed gentry whose interests they so zealously guard. The plebeian masses in the villages hate British imperialism in degree only more than they hate their immediate oppressors, the landlords and the usurers. A popular revolt against imperialism would assume, from its first beginnings, a class character. Events in India have amply demonstrated this. An India freed from imperialism world mean an India freed from feudalism and capitalism as well. This, the Congress leaders are not prepared to see. They who had consistently championed the rights of the landlords and the Princes, to the extent of throwing into prison hundreds of militant peasants during the period of Congress Ministries, had no heart for a struggle which would go beyond the boundaries of their own narrow bourgeois reformist interests. When, therefore, they sanctioned the third Civil Disobedience movement, they were merely hoping to save their own political prestige and their hold over the Congress. The real attitude of the Congress leaders on the eve of the revolution, was well expressed by Pandit Nehru, at the moment of his arrest: “Thank God,” he said. “They have come.”

Nor did these leaders want to see a breach of industrial peace at a period when the native bourgeoisie, after the long and lean years of peace, had only begun to garner the golden harvest of war. The following figures of textile profits can throw more light on the policies pursued by the Congress leaders, than all their speeches put together.





Kohinoor Mills




Madura Mills



30, 020,110

Muir Mills




New Victoria Mills




Since the beginning of the war, the dominant note in the policy of Congress leadership was struck by their fear of the masses. This was made obvious in the course of the individual Civil Disobedience movement which was inaugurated by Mr. Gandhi in the summer of 1941. Not only was Mr. Gandhi to choose each individual non-resister, he was also to choose every word of his speech! Every loop-hole through which the masses could conceivably enter the political field, was carefully closed up. When the Workers of Bombay suggested that the efforts of the individual crusaders might well be supplemented by mass demonstrations from the factories, they were curtly informed that there must be no interference with the normal functioning of the economic life of the country. There must be no interference with profits!

The transformation of the Individual Civil Disobedience Movement into a mass movement of the following year, was a continuation of the old policy. Certainly the Indian bourgeoisie did not think that their trusted lieutenants had suddenly taken the road of Revolution. There was hardly a representative body of native capitalism, which did not plead for the release of Mr. Gandhi at the time of his fast. And they did so not from any allegiance to democratic ideals but because they looked upon his continued leadership of the National movement as the greatest safeguard against the dangers of Bolshevism in India.

Subsequent events go to show that right up to the moment of his arrest, the Mahatma was looking out for an opportunity which would enable him to stave off the evil day. At the moment when he was supposed to be preparing and perfecting the plan of campaign for the “last decisive struggle” around the slogan “Do or Die” the great leader was pacing his cottage in anxious expectation of a message from the Viceroy, which failed to arrive. This at least, is revealed in the Gandhi-Linlithgow correspondence released not so long ago. In his letter of August 12th, Mr. Gandhi writes:

The Government of India should have waited at least till the time I inaugurated mass action. I have publicly stated that I fully contemplated sending you a letter before taking concrete action. It was to be an appeal to you for an impartial examination of the Congress case. As you know, the Congress has readily filled in every omission that has been discovered in the conception of its demand. So I could have dealt with every difficulty if you had given me the opportunity.”

Similarly, in his letter of September 23rd:

>I venture to assert that had the Government but awaited my contemplated letter to His Excellency, the Viceroy, and the result thereafter, no calamity would have befallen the country and the reported deplorable destruction would most certainly have been avoided.”

Mr. Rajagopalachari, the ex-Congress Premier of Madras, who, in spite of his open desertion to the imperialist camp, remains on the best terms with Mr. Gandhi, has revealed that Mr. Gandhi never expected having to put the Congress Resolution into effect. He hoped by means of the resolution, to persuade the Viceroy to open negotiations. “The Congress leaders were arrested before they issued instructions to the people.” This is fully corroborated by Mr. Gandhi’s letter of August 12th to the Viceroy: “The Congress movement was intended to evoke in the people the measures of sacrifice sufficient to compel attention.”

But the masses of India had no desire to be used merely as a pawn in the hands of Mr. Gandhi and the Congress leadership. They had interpreted the Congress flag as the symbol of a revolutionary struggle against the imperialist oppressors. The arrest of the Congress leadership became the signal for the independent revolutionary action of the masses. But the bourgeois leaders could never forgive the masses for such abjuration of the eternal principles of non-violence and non-resistance. They needed no inducement from the Viceroy to disown and disclaim all responsibility for the actions of the revolutionary “Canaille”. They regretted and “deplored” the terror by which the authorities hoped to stamp out the revolt: but they did not even deny to Imperialism the right to use violence against the masses.

From behind their comfortable prison chambers, the bourgeois leaders wistfully looked towards the day when strikes and peasant revolt would give way to conferences and negotiations. The whole philosophy of the Gandhian leadership is summed up in the following passage in Mr. Gandhi”s letter of 3rd September:

The only right course for the Government seems to me to be the release of the Congress leaders, withdraw all repressive measures and explore ways and means of reconciliation. Surely, the Government has ample resources to deal with any overt acts of violence.”

There can be no doubt that as the experiences of the last 12 months have seeped through the consciousness of the vanguard of the anti-imperialist movement, a deep cleavage has developed between the rank and file and the leadership. The militant rank and file, and particularly the socialist youth, is awakening to an understanding of the political and class issues underlying the present situation. This is well revealed in the recent document issued under the name of Jai Prakash Narain, the fugitive leader of the Congress Socialist Party.

Our Revolution is at present going through a period of low water, not because the superior forces of the imperialist power intervened but because of two important factors: the lack of efficient organisation and a complete programme of National Revolution. After the first phase of the rising was over there was no further programme placed before the people. Having accomplished over large territories, the negative task of destruction our revolution calls for a positive programme. The people who destroyed the objects and means of administration of the foreign power and drove away its agents, should have set up in the areas, their own units of Revolutionary Government and created their own police and militia. Had it been done, it would have released such an unprecedented volume of energy and opened up such a vast field for constructive work, that waves of the Revolution would have mounted higher till the people seized supreme authority throughout the land.”

It is as an indication of the prevailing trend of thought among the lower ranks of the Congress and Socialist vanguard that the main significance of the document is to be found. While raising the basic issues, it makes no serious attempt to solve them. “Had there been a programme things would have been different.” And again the “people should have set up their own units of revolutionary government.” Quite true! But why was not this done? Was it not the duty of those who claimed to be the leaders of the struggle, to formulate a correct programme? If Soviets should have been set up as organs of struggle why had no mention been made of this by the Congress either in the preparations or in the course of the struggle itself? The only attempt which this document makes towards answering these questions, shows that Congress Socialism has not changed its role as left cover for the bourgeois leadership. “The earnestness, the urgency, the determination,” writes Narain, “that marked the attitude of leaders Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Prasad Sardar Patel, failed to reflect in minds and hearts of all Congress leaders.”

Such blindness as to the realities of events, represents either the acme of stupidity or a deliberate deception of the masses. It represents the complete bankruptcy of petit-bourgeois socialism as an independent force in the Indian struggle. The masses need a programme, but such a programme can only be based on their fundamental economic needs. Only a programme which links the actual struggle in the villages and in the factories with a general struggle against imperialism. Such a programme must include a long overdue agrarian revolution for the most radical measures in the interests of the industrial proletariat.

Had there been a revolutionary party in India which had an understanding of the problem and was implacably opposed not only to the imperialists, but could counterpose a clear class lead to the workers and peasants in opposition to the treacherous bourgeois programme of Congress, the situation in India would have been completely transformed. A revolutionary party, standing for the setting up of workers” committees in the towns and peasant committees in the countryside, waging a struggle to get rid of the imperialists and the landowners, would have received powerful support. As it was, as Narain has indicated, for lack of such a lead the revolt of the peasants in the countryside was isolated and scattered, without aim and perspective, and easily destroyed piece meal by the centralised force of the imperialist state which moved from one area to the rest methodically, without any hindrance being placed in their way. In this helplessness of the peasants, is summed up the necessity for leadership from the cities. As the bourgeoisie is incapable of leading, and is even hostile to the movement of the peasants, the leadership of the democratic movement automatically falls on the shoulders of the proletariat. It is this that the petit bourgeois radicals of the Congress Socialist Party cannot understand. Instead of boldly proclaiming this, they confuse the issue by resting the responsibility for the failure on the shoulders of some of the leaders of Congress. Instead of a political analysis, the blame is laid on organisational defects. As if the organisational basis of organs of struggle and of Governments, do not flow from the political position of the participants and organisers and as though it would be possible for the bourgeois to leaders of Congress to “rectify” their “mistake”.

After 12 months of struggle, the Indian Revolution has come to a standstill. History, however, provides its own compensation. By its very immobility, the Revolution has set in motion unseen forces which will prepare for it a new period of rising ascendancy and under more favourable conditions. It was necessary for the masses to come to a halt before any further progress could be made. The contradiction between their ideological and organisational equipment, and the requirements of the struggle, had to be felt in the bitter experiences of defeat, before the necessary adjustments could be made.

From this point of view, the experiences of the last few months will contribute more towards the political education of the vanguard of the Indian masses, than any other period in recent history. The coming period will witness the revival of Marxism on an unprecedented scale, and its development will take place under conditions much more favourable than those surrounding its birth. The foundation of the Third International by Lenin and Trotsky led to the emergence of Marxism as a distinct current in India”s political life and the formation of” the first Communist Groups among the Indian workers. Thousands of workers and students disillusioned and disoriented by the treacherous role of the Gandhian leadership, rallied under the banner of revolutionary Marxism with renewed hopes tend devotion. Their struggles and self-sacrifice will constitute one of the most glorious pages in the history of the Indian working class.

But even before the elementary organisational tasks could be accomplished, the epigones of the Soviet bureaucracy had succeeded in establishing their withering hold over the International. Along with the other sections of the Communist International, the Communist Party of India was transformed into mere border-guards for the Soviet bureaucracy, and the interests of the masses were sacrificed to the narrow and nationalistic interests of the Kremlin”s traps. Today, Indian Stalinism has reached its nemesis as the most universally detested political organisation in India. These new hirelings of Churchill need not complain when, as their paper “World News and Views” admits, their offices are razed to the ground and their persons attacked by bodies of enraged workers. Like the Quislings of Hitler, these traitors subsist entirely on the benevolence and support of the alien conquerors. The coming months will witness the complete disintegration and disappearance of Stalinism as a factor in Indian politics.

With the decline of Stalinism and its fast approaching death, Marxism is once again coming to life in the young and growing cadres of the Fourth International in India. In the months to come, as the vanguard of the anti-imperialist masses of India turns away in disgust from the bankrupt policies of the bourgeois nationalists and their “socialist” allies, they will find in the programme and principles of the Fourth International, the only guarantees for the ultimate freedom of India. The task which faces them is the task which faces the working class, throughout the world: to build the mass party of the Indian proletariat, which alone can transform the halting and scattered character of the movement and the plebian masses into a concerted national effort against imperialism and for freedom.

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