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S. Stanley

Problems of Colonial India II

(May 1938)

From New International, Vol.4 No.5, May 1938, pp.149-151. [1]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

AGAINST THESE TRAINED armed forces, against this rigidly mechanized bureaucracy and colonial state apparatus built up by England with minute and loving care over a period of two centuries, the Indian nationalist movement has raised itself – for the most part, with incredible feebleness, cowardice and subservience. Not because there was lacking the necessary human material and widespread social discontent for a powerful, dynamic liberation movement. These factors have been present ever since those days when England entered the stage of aggressive, imperialist penetration (1840’s). But to the present day, the nationalist movement has been under the complete control of the national Indian bourgeoisie. This bourgeois leadership has aimed primarily at the maintenance and strengthening of England’s grip upon India, because it well knows that any serious liberation struggle against England will set into motion great forces within India itself – forces inevitably bound to threaten its own class existence: the peasant-agrarian revolution against the Hindu landowners, moneylenders, etc., the proletarian revolution against Hindu industrialists and finance-bankers in the large cities.

A real liberation struggle means the class struggle for socialism. India’s capitalists and landlords recognize this and thus basically oppose both liberation and independence. At the most, they desire minor political concessions giving them greater freedom to carry on their own private exploitation of the masses. It is similar to the middleman of capital who, while cheating the farmer, tries to take a little extra “cut” for himself. The most “left” section of the Indian bourgeoisie, the Hindu liberals, desires Dominion Status or “Swaraj” (Home Rule) – that is, the opportunity to set up an Indian parliament, modeled after Britain’s Parliament, in which they can ape their English brothers at playing the game of parliamentary cant. To an unparalleled extent, the Indian bourgeoisie is tied hand and foot to the ruling class of the imperialism oppressing its native country. The official press of both countries continually harps on the fact that there is no real – either internal or external – dissension between them – only slight disagreements. Absolutely true! Yet this class ally of England dominates the liberation movement!

Several years ago the world witnessed violent rioting and fighting between Hindus and Moslems at Chittagong. English and Indian rulers alike united in suppressing not only the riots but also their meaning. The official press (including that of America) plastered the label of “religious strife” over the events. Actually, the riots were a struggle between revolting, land-hungry Moslem peasants and their Hindu landlords! The Midland Daily Telegraph (1930) gives another example of the economic content behind so-called religious riots. “The population of the village [recently destroyed in a “religious” battle] is almost entirely Mohammedan, with a small section of Hindu moneylenders and traders to whom many of the Mohammedans are indebted. Communal feeling is, therefore, aggravated by economic causes.” The fire of class struggle burns with elemental heat within India. It is present in Indian life from its most primitive forms to its most contemporary. Thus it is impossible to speak of the Indian bourgeoisie leading a liberation struggle – it is a formidable obstacle on that road.

The Indian Nationalist Congress (INC) is the best known expression of Indian nationalism. For many years it was an outright pro-British fraternal organization, not even seeking minor political reforms. Through it Britain worked to build up and cultivate the friendship of a native bourgeoisie. Under pressure of the Swarajist Party (a liberal-bourgeois party organized by C.R. Das, who was also an important figure in the English Fabian and cooperative movements), a slight turn was given to the INC helm. Although still made up entirely of native bourgeois organizations, it began to demand certain political concessions from England. These demands, needless to say, were presented in humble, lackey-like fashion. This slight shift took place around 1890 when, for the first time, working class and peasant organizations became known to the Indians. During the pre-war period, under the harsh military rule of Lord Curzon, there appeared the first primitive manifestation of a growing revolutionary spirit – acts of terrorism carried out by Indian students. The inevitably unfavorable rejoinder to this was an Act of Parliament permitting Lord Curzon (and future Indian Viceroys) to exercise a six-month emergency decree-power whenever he so desired. Suppression of newly formed organizations, wholesale arrests, etc., followed.

Meanwhile, to satisfy more vociferous elements in the INC a kind of Parliament was established. (Morley-Minto Constitution of 1909.) Of course, Constitutional provisions assured beforehand English control of the majority membership. (Highly selective voting requirements, a set number of Englishmen to constitute part of the Parliament without having to be elected, etc.) Again, due to the post-war revolutionary fire kindled by the October Bolshevik Revolution, the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms were adopted, granting further political concessions. The Russian Revolution gave to the nationalist movement its first revolutionary element – the Indian Communist Party. (The Social-Democracy had never attempted to organize a colonial movement in India – or, for that matter, in any colonial country.) To further guarantee the friendship of the native bourgeoisie, “Dyarchy,” the greatest political concession up till then, was granted. This reform established Provincial Parliaments with exceedingly minor functions. But the nationalist movement in general and the revolutionary CP of India in particular continued to grow. It was at this time that Gandhi first assumed importance in the Indian movement.


What is Gandhism? Of all the innumerable blights weighing down up the long-oppressed Indian masses, the curse inflicted by Gandhism is the worst. Gandhism is the art of leading the Indian people up a blind alley and then showing the way out – straight into the arms of England. The man himself dissolves into insignificance when placed beside his ideas and their tragic effect in disorganizing and disorientating the liberation movement. Yet these ideas have always been reflected in his personal career. Gandhi comes from a high-caste Hindu family and was educated as a barrister in England. He practised law among Indians who had been shanghaied from India and brought to do forced labor in South Africa by the English. There he developed his “nonviolence” and “passive resistance” doctrine, before his return to India. During the World War Gandhi supported the English imperialists and actively helped recruit Indians into the British European armies. (Tens of thousands of Indians fought in Europe, and India paid over to England a total sum of 240 million pounds.) After the War, his ideas were rounded out into a fullblown ideology and he began to recruit the mass movement which reached its height in 1930-1933 under the name of “Civil Disobedience.”

Gandhism is the epitome of petty-bourgeois reactionary doctrine. The two basic ideas are: (1) Liberation can be attained by ethical means – i.e., non-violence; (2) India must return to the ways of the ancient Hindus. These conceptions were employed in India on a gigantic scale and under almost ideal conditions. An elemental movement of the masses, sweeping from the depths of Indian society, was cut off at the very peak of its development when its leaders time after time capitulated before the threats of England. (Delhi Pact, 1931; Poona Agreement, 1934.) Each time, Gandhi strangled the movement when it appeared on the verge of transcending his bourgeois ideas, with the result that his vast following became discouraged and more than ever a prey to the exploitation of the Indian and English bourgeoisie. The objective role of Gandhi has been to handcuff the workers and peasants and then turn them over to the whip of imperialism. He is known as Britain’s greatest policeman in India! The reactionary content of his doctrine is further embodied in his idea that India must return to the past. The one progressive aspect of Britain’s historic rule, that of partly freeing India from the backwardness of Asiatic antiquity, appears to have been, for Gandhi, retrogressive. Petty-bourgeois thought has always been distinguished by its yearnings for the customs of the past, but certainly never on such a scale as Gandhi would have it. His ideal India is that of the hand spinning wheel and distillation of salt from the sea. From this it naturally follows that the present caste-system, remnant of the ancient hereditary labor-division, meets with his full approval. Gandhi desires to “alleviate”, not destroy, the sufferings of the Untouchables. As for the workers, they do not belong in his India. With them he has no concern.


A large share of the responsibility for Gandhi’s influence rests upon the Indian Communist Party. We have mentioned its growth in numbers and influence during the post-war period. In 1925, the swing to the right of the Comintern began the period of Stalinist opportunism. Just as it was marked by the tragic defeat of the second Chinese Revolution (1925-1927), so in India it saw the decline of the communist movement and its subordination to petty-bourgeois and bourgeois control. The Indian CP nestled itself deeply in the ISC, under the stifling wing of the “progressive national bourgeoisie”.

The defeat of the Chinese Revolution had its inevitable effect upon the Indian movement. There began a period of decline, retreat, withdrawal. The Indian CP preferred to learn nothing from the events in China and before long, under orders from the Comintern, they executed their turn into the insanity of the “Third Period”. They boycotted not only the Indian Nationalist Congress (now become a nest of Indian “fascists”), but the labor and peasant movement itself. It was the same story as in every country. “Red Trade Unions” (the Girni Kamgar), corresponding to the American TUUL, were organized – on paper; complete aloofness from every slight manifestation of struggle; complete loss of any following or influence among the workers and peasants; bureaucratic expulsions for any opposition to the divine line; complete eclipse of the Indian CP. Yet precisely during these years (1930-1933) the Gandhist influence reached its high point. Through the Civil Disobedience movement Gandhi held full sway over the masses and led them to defeat and humiliation before their British masters. The amazingly limited character of this bourgeois-led movement is shown by the fact that while the peasants stopped rental payments to their British landlords, they were forced to continue these payments to their Hindu landlords. Instead of active participation with the aim of broadening the struggle’s scope, the isolated Indian Stalinists stood aside and launched manifestoes denouncing the “social-fascist” leaders. By the middle of 1933 Civil Disobedience had halted before the tomb that lay in wait for it, and Gandhi was soon on his way to help the British forge new fetters on prostrate India (the Round-Table Conferences).


Not till 1936 was there any serious sign of a revival in nationalist or revolutionary sentiments. In that year the INC held two important sessions heralding a new period of activity. A most casual reading of the Indian press at that time was sufficient evidence that Britain was preparing to impose upon India a new constitution, one that had been ten years in the making and which the British imperialists knew would meet the sternest opposition. The year opened amidst a wave of strikes, arrests, police beatings (the infamous lathi charges), enforcement of curfew laws, lockouts, martial law measures, etc., etc. Britain announced that the new Constitution (the Government of India Act, adopted by Parliament in 1935) would be launched officially in April, 1937. India rose almost as one man in opposition. All turned towards the 50th Indian Nationalist Congress to be held at Allahabad, in December of 1936.

What is this New Constitution? Its provisions include the most reactionary measures yet foisted upon the Indian masses. Its broader provisions (not yet put into effect) create a Federal India, abolishing the Native States and welding them into one centralized federation. The old system of “Dyarchy” which granted the provincial assemblies minor powers is abolished. Its general purpose is to make of India one complete political unit under the military domination of the imperialists.

The more concrete measures of the New Constitution are already in effect under the Bill of Provincial Autonomy and Self-Government. Listen to what this liberal and democratic bill contains:

  1. The Governor-General (a British appointee) shall direct and control the Departments of Defense, External Affairs and Ecclesiastical Affairs.
  2. “The Governor-General and the Provincial Governors can issue any executive order, without consultation with either Minister or Legislature, he may consider necessary; he can dismiss and replace any Minister or Ministers, with or without resort to a dissolution of the Legislature, and if he fails to find an alternative Government capable of administering law and order on lines consistent with the discharge of his special responsibility, he will be obliged to declare a breakdown of the Constitution, and to assure himself all such powers as he judges requisite to retrieve the situation.”
  3. The Governor-General can dissolve, prorogue or summon the Legislature; veto all bills and act as he sees fit despite any act to the contrary the Legislature may have adopted.
  4. Any legislation affecting the Sovereign, the Sovereignty of the Crown over any part of British India, the Army Act, the Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts, the Constitution Act itself, etc., is placed beyond the scope of the Legislature.
  5. The same holds true for legislation affecting the Police, the Special Branch (secret police), Indian Reserve Bank and finances in general.
  6. Approximately 10% of the population may vote, since only this percentage fulfills the property and educational qualifications.
  7. There are separate electorates and constituencies for different communities and religions (“Divide and Rule”).
  8. One-third of the seats in the Federal Lower House automatically go to the Indian Princes and Rajahs. Almost one-half are theirs in the Upper House.
  9. Tens of thousands of trade-union voters are automatically disqualified from voting.

“A New Charter of Bondage”, Nehru called it. It presaged a vast expansion of militarism over India, it meant an increase in the permanent armed forces stationed throughout the country, it implied a state of perpetual martial law. With nervous anxiety the British rulers awaited the outcome of the INC meetings. They saw with what eagerness the masses awaited instructions to launch a mass struggle against the proposed “Slave Constitution”.



1. This is the second section of the article the first part of which appeared in the April issue.

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