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Revolt Brewing in India

Ghandi Holds Masses in Check by Reformist Maneuvers

(January 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 3 (Whole No. 99), 16 January 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Ghandi [1], V. Patel, J. Nehru have been arrested by the Indian authorities. As a protest, the cotton, the bullion, the piece goods, the seed and the stock exchanges in Bombay and other cities have been closed. The boycott against British goods is in full swing. Civil disobedience is the slogan of the nationalist leaders.

On the surface, the above incidents give a fairly comprehensive characterization of the present situation in British India. Strikes of workers are, as yet, not on the order of the day. The Hindu hartal or patriotic strike, still dominates the political scene. For the time being, the nationalist bourgeoisie still holds the reins firmly. The revolutionary masses are still spell-bound by the shrewd and soothing voice of the “Mahatma”. And it cannot be doubted that the personality of Ghandi still represents an enormous factor in the political life along the Ganges.

A “Shrewd Mahatma

In a recent interview with Parisian newspapermen, Ghandi expressed the opinion that in the event of “sudden” emancipation, a free India would not very well be able to dispense with a regular standing army. Yes, the Mahatma said this. The newspapermen showered questions on the saintly man and he answered nearly all with saintly patience and. serenity. There was one question, however, which he evaded with the sleekness of an eel. That question was in regard to his attitude toward the Russian revolution. “I am too humble”, the Mahatma replied to this question, “to pretend to omniscience. Consequently I must declare that I do not know what to think of the Russian revolution”. The “Mahatma” did not appear pleased at all by the suggestion of a comparison between the Indian revolution and the Russian.

Would it be too rash to assume on the basis of all this that the great principle of Oriental ethics – non-violence – is in the last analysis, only a cloak for the fear the Hindu bourgeoisie has of the armed masses? Hardly. The Russian bourgeoisie (and the Spanish bourgeoisie in its turn today) shouted at the top of its lungs that its revolution was “bloodless” and covered its fear of the people with less effective, to be sure, but nevertheless just as guarded ideological ceremoniousness. The Russian bourgeoisie was faced with war times that accelerated the march of events and with a resolute and firmly established working class party. Its end came rather swiftly. The course of the Indian bourgeoisie, which kowtows no less to the foreign imperialists, will probably, considering the times and more than that – the geographical situation of the country – be a much lengthier one.

The colonial character, of India makes its revolution dependent to a large extent, upon the attitude, the aid rendered it by the British working class. In the course of events, the attachment between the seasoned proletariat of Great Britain and the youthful proletariat of India, which is historically inevitable, will no doubt develop into the determining influence in that country’s future. For the present, however, both the British as well as the Indian workers are still to be found in the background of the scene. The further progress of the German revolutionary movement in Europe and of the Chinese in the Far East will, sooner or later, serve to set the former two into motion.

Signs of Militancy

In the meantime, a few signs of rising militancy are already visible on the periphery of the new movement. At, Srinigar, a crowd estimated at 12,000 persons attacked the police station and liberated three prisoners. Despite the manifold assurances by the nationalist leaders that the masses would abstain from violent action, the British police forces have taken all possible precautions. The viceroy of India, Lord Willingdon, has unleashed a savage system of repression all over the country. Police and soldiery have been armed to the teeth. An ordinance has been issued outlawing all meetings of groups of more than five persons, The gentlemanly Willingdon, quite a hand with a cricket bat himself (the papers say), seems of late to have become an enthusiast of the native “lathi”, applied by his troops with utter abandon to the skulls and bodies of demonstrants in the public squares. The British soldiery have recently been increased to fully 68,000 men, the native to more than 175,000. They are apparently expecting serious trouble.

Just how soon the activity of the masses will rise above the heads of their nationalist leaders, it is hard to tell. The Communist party, young and weak as a result of the Menshevik policies of Stalin-Bucharin in the Far East up to 1927 and due to the entire loss of revolutionary perspective since, is almost without any influence at all. The Garni Kamgar textile workers and the railroad workers of the G.I.P., who have already made Indian history in the past, have not yet been heard from. But they are sure to figure more prominently in the near future. The lathi, after all, does not distinguish between the masses, it strikes and hurts them all. But it is not likely that the workers of India will long be fascinated by whatever it is that “Mahatma” Ghandi is spinning – in his cell or out of it. The workers, once they are started, will act, and act forcefully. For the Communists, the present situation in India represents an excellent opportunity to approach the masses, to build up their cadres and to consolidate their influence and their following for the more decisive struggles to come.

Note by ETOL

1. Following the original print version we use the spelling “Ghandi” rather than the more usual “Gandhi”.

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