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S. Stanley

Problems of Colonial India III

(June 1938)

From New International, Vol.4 No.6, June 1938, pp.184-186. [1*]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

BEFORE GIVING AN account of the past year and a half of treachery heaped upon treachery as displayed in the actions of the INC, we must describe the working-class political elements that make up the left-wing of this classic anti-imperialist People’s Front movement. The INC itself is a mere carbon copy of the infamous Chinese Kuomintang (bloc of 4 classes!) transferred to India. Its predominant right and center sections consist of the native bourgeois, petty-bourgeois and radical-liberal elements. Its so-called left-wing is made up of the workers, i.e., “radical” parties – the All-Indian Congress Socialist Party; the Indian Communist Party, and the Royist tendency (followers of the well-known Indian leader, M.N. Roy, who was released from jail a little over a year ago after serving a long sentence). These three groupings, of which the Congress Socialist Party is the largest, work closely together in the INC as part of the “anti-imperialist People’s Front”.

The character of the Congress Socialist Party is contained in its name. It is petty-bourgeois both in program and in composition. Its arena of activity is limited to the INC (At the last INC Congress it controlled approximately one-third of the delegates.) The party itself has few connections with trade unions in the industrial cities, and still fewer connections with mass peasant organizations. It was organized in 1935 by former followers of Gandhi (mostly Hindu students, educated in England – Oxford and Cambridge – and returned home to “lead” the workers and peasants), who had partially grasped the reasons for the failure of the Gandhi movement and had rebelled against its extreme petty-bourgeois ideology. Vaguely sympathetic to the British ILP, the CSP stands programatically for socialism “in our time”. Its independent program calls for numerous economic reforms and bases its political content on the demand for a Constituent Assembly. But it is infinitely removed (as its presence in and active support of the INC testifies) from a serious Marxian program for carrying-on a revolutionary struggle against Britain based on mass workers and peasant organizations. The CSP is essentially a reformist party. Even its most radical immediate demands such as that of a Constituent Assembly are put forward in an abstract, mechanical and parliamentary fashion. Thus, this proposed Assembly is to be based on adult – not even universal – suffrage! Despite the Marxian phraseology (ill-digested, to be sure!) of its publications, the CSP meekly and pathetically accepts the bourgeois leadership in the Congress.

Its party leader is perhaps the single most important individual developed by the Indian Nationalist movement. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has not only replaced the largely discredited Gandhi but, in the eyes of the masses, he is looked upon with far greater admiration and from him are expected the greatest revolutionary deeds. An excellent agitator and orator, he has won an immense personal following. Nehru, in his recently published autobiography, describes how he became disillusioned in Gandhism and launches a fierce attack upon Gandhi’s treachery during the “Civil Disobedience” movement. In his presidential speech to the INC at its Lucknow meeting (May, 1936) he attacked middle-class leadership.

“A middle-class leadership is thus often a distracted leadership, looking in two directions at once. In times of crisis and struggle this two-faced leadership is bound to injure the cause and to hold back when a forward movement is called for.”

The Pandit professes to believe in socialism. “The only key to the solution of India’s problems lies in socialism.” How often has he repeated that formula! Yet, à la Earl Browder, he has often stated his willingness and readiness to “die for democracy”. He claims to understand by socialism not some vague, humanitarian Utopia, but the scientific socialism of Marx and Engels. Nehru wears the badge of a Marxist, nothing less. Yet when we come to examine his role in the last INC meeting, as well as his actions since then, we shall see that Nehru, in his tremendous confusion, has been swallowed up by the labor movement’s greatest plague, the line of Stalinism.

As is to be expected, the Indian Stalinists are faithfully carrying out the Comintern’s political instructions. They claim great “progress”. Emerging from their former isolation, they first joined up with the INC (a necessary step in the formation of an Indian People’s Front); without any difficulty dissolved their “Red Flag Unions” into the All-India Trade Union Congress (1936), and proclaimed as their task the building of a “United anti-Imperialist People’s Front”. They advocate a program of the crudest nationalism and call for the unity of “all peoples against the British”. R. Palme Dutt, the Stalinist Indian expert, declares openly that a movement similar to that of the old “national-revolutionary Kuomintang of China” must be built. With incredible cynicism, these people urge the Indian masses to pursue the same course that led to such disaster in China in 1927 (and again in 1938!). They ask the workers and peasants to join their own rulers in “common” cause.

Marx always pointed to the close relationship between the revolutionary cause of England and that of India. The same relationship holds for the cause of reaction and counter-revolution. With the English Stalinists still anxiously seeking to launch a People’s Front in England, despite the abortive failure of their first attempt with the Socialist League and the ILP, it is quite in order to expect a corresponding People’s Front for India. There it is today, already having delivered heavy blows against the liberation struggle. The motive of the Stalinists is clear. They say, in effect:

“Let us get a People’s Front government in England. This government will, we hope, ally itself in the manner of France, with the Soviet Union. So far, so good. But what about the English colonies? What if, encouraged by our success, the oppressed natives should carry on a revolutionary struggle against England for liberation. This will weaken England, Stalin’s ally! We must therefore simultaneously destroy this colonial movement. We must not let it overrun the traditional bounds! Ergo, long live the People’s Front of India!”

The perfidious goal of the Indian People’s Front is to choke off any attempt to fight against England and instead have the Indian masses fight in the approaching World War with imperialist England against Germany, Japan or any country that may attack the Soviet Union. This is the Stalinist policy in India, arrived from Moscow via London.

Does the reader require a practical illustration of the policy? Let us look at the Stalinist line in Indo-China (a colony of French People’s Front imperialism). A little over a year ago, during Blum’s honeymoon period in the Popular Front, Duong Bach Mai, Communist Party Counsellor in the city of Saigon, Indo-China, wrote the following:

“The risk of losing Indo-China [for France] no longer comes from within, but externally” (referring to Japanese-German accord).

“From now on the duty of France is clear. It must immediately restore our dignity and personality among the peoples of the Far East by taking measures that will sincerely attach us to popular and democratic France” (from L’Humanité, Dec. 18th, 1936).

Likewise, the French Stalinists have maintained perfect and lofty silence during the periodic waves of police terror launched by the Popular Front regime of France against the natives of Indo-China, Syria, French Algeria, etc. Perfect silence even when this terror hit their own comrades, as in Indo-China.

Thus, death to the struggle for colonial liberation. That has been the practice in France for almost two years; that is the practice and policy today in India. Furthermore, it must be understood that while the Stalinists would prefer to see an English People’s Front government allied to the Soviet Union – this is not essential. A Tory government at war with Hitler will serve as sufficient excuse for the Indian Stalinists to lend their support (in full) to the predatory aims of England. This is the logic of Stalinism’s colonial “policy”.

Finally, the Royists. The American Lovestone clique has long claimed them as their own. Lately, for sufficient reason, they soft-peddle this relationship. M.N. Roy was a CP member who was expelled along with the Comintern Right Opposition in 1928. His influence was quite extensive at one time and still remains an important force in the city of Bombay. Politically, the Royists have accepted the complete reactionary line of Stalinist People’s Front and are providing theoretical justification for the INC by serving up all the warmed-over arguments of Menshevism. M.N. Roy’s latest work, a collection of letters to the Congress Socialist Party, is replete with this trash. Immediately upon his release from jail, Roy hastened to participate in the INC meeting at Allahabad where he soon displayed how far removed his ideas were from revolutionary Marxism. M.N. Roy had changed to a pure petty-bourgeois Nationalist.

Pledged beforehand to the support of their own native rulers, these three working class tendencies participated in the 50th meeting of the INC, held at Allahabad in December, 1936. Meeting at a time of great uneasiness on all sides, the Congress was to deal specifically with the question of the New Constitution. The bourgeoisie, liberal and conservative sections alike, aimed to make out of the Congress a festival for social peace. Ably aided by the Stalinists, CSP and Royists, they succeeded.

Nehru, to whom as president of the INC fell the job of delivering the keynote speech, sounded loud and familiar notes of harmony and unity. Preparations had previously been made by the Congress Socialist Party for this capitulation to the bourgeois wing of the INC when, at the Lucknow meeting of the INC held in April, 1936, the CSP had withdrawn its resolutions favoring a struggle for economic demands. And now Nehru reiterated his “belief” in socialism, but his readiness to “die fighting for democracy”. All sections were well pleased with the Pandit’s remarks. The Congress then went on record as supporting the Geneva World Peace Congress (influence of Stalinism); adopted another resolution protesting the new “forward” [1] policy of the British; favored the convening of a Constituent Assembly which will create in India a “... genuine, democratic state”.

To the impassioned questions posed by India’s masses there was no answer save that of evading the struggle and preparing to accept Britain’s will. A resolution was passed against the New Constitution, but it deliberately failed to outline any definite program of action to be utilized against its enforcement. The motion advocating a General Strike against the Constitution was tabled with the support of socialist and Stalinist delegates. The Congress refused to adopt any resolution or to even hold discussions on agrarian or labor problems! On the most immediate and practical question of the day – whether or not members of the INC should accept posts in the ministries created under the new Constitution – a step was taken thoroughly preparing for a future opportunism. Decision was postponed until after the elections!

On one lone issue did a fight threaten to develop. That was the matter of the reelection of Nehru as the president of the INC But this skirmish was shortly ended. Under pressure from Gandhi, who emerged from his “retirement” long enough to do another good deed for British imperialism, the Pandit withdrew the ideas he had advanced in his opening speeches about India’s need for socialism and issued a statement saying: “It would be absurd for me to treat this presidential election as a vote for socialism or anti-office acceptances.” As a result, the right-wing withdrew its conservative candidate, all sighed with relief and Nehru was unanimously reflected. As the Times of India (leading English imperialist paper) remarked: “The Pandit’s unanimous election is ... a triumph for the parliamentary wing.” The only practical step taken in the entire INC meeting was the preparation of lists of candidates to run in the April election scheduled under the New Constitution. In short, acceptance of the “Slave Constitution” as an accomplished fact! Thus spoke the Kuomintang of India!

After this disgusting love-feast (with the British Lion as the main guest), the INC faced the elections. It possessed a blank-check, made out to reformism and opportunism. Very radical was its election propaganda.

“This Congress reiterates its entire rejection of the Government of India Act. .. any cooperation with the Constitution is a betrayal of India’s struggle for freedom and a strengthening of the hold of British imperialism ... The Congress therefore repeats its resolve not to submit to this Constitution, nor to cooperate with it, but to combat it, both inside and outside the legislatures, so as to end it.”

Yet the bourgeoisie carefully prepared for office acceptance, i.e., administration by direct methods of Britain’s will. They saw to it that only candidates of their own choice ran for the legislatures. No working class candidates were supported by the INC They drastically curbed the tone and scope of pre-election propaganda.

Yet despite the careful provisions of the Constitution, despite the divisions and strife provoked by the British, despite a sharp wave of terrorism launched by the police during pre-election weeks, the Indian masses rejected the Constitution and signaled once again their great desire to march into combat. The INC was returned with an absolute majority in 6 Provinces and as the biggest party in 3 other Provinces. This out of a total of 11. The power of this blow at British imperialism is further understood when we realize that every single INC candidate elected was pledged to reject and combat the Constitution.

Then the bourgeoisie of India struck swiftly. It revived Gandhi and conducted a great campaign designed to renew his former influence. It preached moderation and temperance. April 1, 1937 – the day of hartal and spontaneous general strike all over India – gave way to July 9 – the day of office acceptance. The Simla correspondent of the Times tells us of these changes:

“Throughout the country generally, Congress leaders are adjusting their policies to meet the new conditions, and the Provincial Congress Ministries are endeavoring to bring their political theories into harmony with constitutional realism ... This reorientation of the attitude of Congress leaders gives emphasis to a statement made by the Premier of Madras, who urged Congress ministers and Congress members to speak with restraint and a sense of responsibility. He also deprecated attacks on the King-Emperor ...”

The inevitable step was taken. The INC formed ministries in 7 out of the 11 Provinces and today rules politically in most of India. Indian bourgeois nationalism once more served its masters. Roy, Nehru and the Stalinists meekly watched (and silently approved) of these actions on the part of those who had just delivered such fierce pledges of their will to struggle against the bribery of office acceptance. The lion of Indian nationalism turned out to be a pathetically bleating lamb.

The period since elections have been months of disillusion and despair for the workers and peasant masses. The INC-controlled ministries have refused to set free political prisoners, failed to put into effect any of the proposed land and labor reforms, broken numerous strikes (in particular, the great strike in the jute industry which assumed the proportions of a general strike involving hundreds of thousands of proletarians), arrested its own members for political and labor activities, endorsed England’s rearmament program for India, and is now openly preparing to accept the second half of Britain’s new program, a Federated and centralized India.

To such an extent has this policy dampened the ardor of the masses that the INC felt it necessary to provide an artificial stimulus as a brace for its evaporating support. On August 1st, 1937, meetings held throughout India were requested to adopt a resolution of confidence in the INC. Part of this resolution read:

“This meeting sends comradely greetings to the Congress Ministers in the 7 provinces where they have taken upon themselves, in spite of limitations and handicaps, the heavy responsibility of steering public policy in accordance with Congress ideals. In this task of realizing Congress objectives, and of combatting the new Constitution [sic!] on the one hand, and of prosecuting the constructive programme on the other, this meeting assures these ministers of its full cooperation.”

Note the familiar hypocrisy and diplomatic language of the politics of betrayal.

Even the Congress Socialist Party is somewhat dubious of the present state of affairs.

“The Congress sail is being filled with reformist wind. The right-wing with its feet in the administrative saddle now thinks in terms of reforms and not revolutionary changes. The constitutional mentality, inescapable with the policy of office acceptance, is growing at a pace even we had not apprehended. In that way lies the danger to militancy in the Congress.” (Congress Socialist, October 16, 1937)

But the CSP offers nothing and stands idly by, wringing its hands in utter despair.

The crying contradiction in Indian politics today is that between the treacherous leadership and the demands and aspirations of the organized masses. Even the peasant organizations (organized on a tremendous scale into the militant All-India Kisan Committee) possess a program far in advance of that of the INC. They demand reduction in land taxes, end of rack-renting, abolition of debts, aid for the unemployed agrarian laborers, end of forced labor and well taxation, etc., etc. Their rallying cry: “Inquilab Zindabad!” (Long live the Revolution!). But the existing parties prevent all struggle; prevent the essential unity of peasant and worker.

It is palpably clear that a regroupment of revolutionary forces, aiming at the formation of a new party is necessary. Without detailing its program, we can state that it will base itself on the struggle of the Indian proletariat allied with the peasantry in an effort to achieve a socialist and agrarian revolution. Above all, the proletariat must learn to conduct a fierce fight against the influence of its own, national bourgeoisie and that, in the words of Trotsky: “the complete and genuine solution of its tasks, democratic and national emancipation, is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation, and above all of its peasant masses.” Then will the cry of the peasants, “Inquilab Zindabad!” take on life and meaning.



1. This refers to the series of attacks still being carried on by army and air forces against native tribes far back in India’s hinterland – the imperialists march again!


Editor’s Note

1*. This is the third and final section of the article, the first part of which appeared in the April issue and the second part of which appeared in the May issue.

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