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S. Stanley

Notes on Contemporary India

(September 1938)

From New International, Vol.4 No.9, September 1938, pp.281.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

CHARACTERISTIC of the last six months of Indian politics has been the discussions on tactics and methods of struggle carried on in the organ of the Congress Socialist Party, The Congress Socialist. Here followers of M.N. Roy, Stalinist agents working in the INC and members of the Socialist Party (who enjoy referring to themselves as “revolutionary socialists”) have all waged ideological war. Since the beginning of the year a “pause”, apparently accompanied by intense intellectual and theoretical evaluating has set in.

In the interim, the INC (Indian Nationalist Congress – the Peoples’ Front of India) has steadily veered to more and more reformist measures. It now has political sway in seven major provinces and its right-wing element, made up of good reformists, has found the fruits of political office much to its liking. Its intentions are clearly to indefinitely “cooperate peacefully” with the British brethren. Already there has grown up the typically bureaucratic machine and apparatus that come as part of the baggage of reformist politicians. The Congress Socialist significantly asks (July 2nd), “Why are nepotism and power politics so rampant in the Congress today?” And it goes on to point to all types of office corruption, while the CSP executive committee adopts a formal resolution of protest against repressive actions on the part of Congress Ministries in breaking up strikes.

Indian socialists also point to increasing indifference among the masses – an obvious reaction to the “do-nothing” tactics of the INC leadership. “Why is there an ebb of the popular interest in party work? Why is there growing apathy among Congress workers?” The reason is that parliamentary constitutionalism has already run its course so far as the masses are concerned. Careerists of all types, eagerly seeking office and jobs have even gone so far as to raise communal (racial) issues within the INC. This is particularly noticeable in contests for petty local posts.

The last congress of the INC was dominated by right-wingers who saw to it that the policy of office-acceptance and pacifism was adhered to. This was summarized by the election of Bose to the congress Presidency, in place of Nehru. The speeches of Bose are those of the petty-bourgeois democrat who skillfully and demagogically adapts himself to the audience at hand. All too often have we heard the same phrasemongery!

What of the working-class political tendencies in India? How has the year and more of democratic liberties affected them ? What have they to say about the fast-approaching end of this temporary period of British concessions?

The Stalinists and their newly found supporters – the followers of M.N. Roy – openly boast of their imperial attachments to “Mother England”. In their official paper, Kranti (National Front) they agitate the Indian masses to cling to the protective bosom of England so as not to fall into the clutches of the fascist countries. National unity must be preserved in order to strengthen the British Empire! Their demands are limited to ... A Charter of Rights! As for Roy, the ex-revolutionist, suffice it to say that he endorses the Moscow Trials!

When the INC recently rejected a united front with the Muslim League (correctly described by the Congress Socialist Party as a “pro-imperialist, reactionary communal organization – and which, incidently, has not hesitated to launch murderous fascist attacks upon Congress meetings”), the Indian Stalinists declared, “It is anti-national to attack a Congress-Muslim League Pact.” This is the Oriental version of the “out-stretched” hand policy!

The Congress Socialist Party (CSP) is unquestionably the only serious workers’ political organization in all of India. Despite its many (and basic!) errors, it is deeply concerned about the task of removing England’s throttle-hold on India. Yet what a confused and muddled picture it presents in its press! On the one hand, the editor of its paper, Asoka Mehta, writes simon-pure Stalinist articles which advocate collective-security with all the trimmings. This is contradicted by unsigned editorials which launch bitter attacks on collective-security and Stalinism. For example, “They (the Stalinists) expect us to shoulder bayonets in the defence of the British Empire!” ... “The greatest blow for peace that we can therefore deliver is to strike for our national freeedom, is to destroy the British Empire and not bolster it up in its hour of peril.” ... “The grave danger of the present Communist policy lies in the fact that by seeking to circumscribe and bridle the nationalist movement of the colonial peoples they will be led, step by step, to suppressing the movement.” “It (collective security) is an attitude of compromise and capitulation ...” We can hardly believe that these editorials are written by the pro-Stalinist editor!

M.R. Masani, an important leader of the CSP, has contributed numerous articles indicative of serious thought on basic problems. He has rejected People’s Frontism in theory only, unfortunately, for he still advocates remaining in the INC People’s Front. His splendid article on the Moscow Trials which fully accepts the report of the Dewey Commission is worth quoting: He believes in the defense of the Soviet Union despite the fact that the “reign of terror is lowering the very ideal of socialism.” “The grim truth is that the Soviet Union is in as great danger from within as without.” “The heritage of the October Revolution belongs to the workers of the whole world. Let us not allow the present Soviet government to monopolize and dissipate that precious heritage.” (June 18, 1938.)

The CSP is a conglomeration of Stalinists, trade-union and peasant (Kisan) union bureaucrats, Utopian socialists and a good proportion of genuine revolutionary socialists. There is as yet no organized, vociferous grouping which advocates the Marxist policy of demonstratively breaking away from the INC. It can be safely predicted, however, that fissures and splits will develop within this Party as England prepares to put into effect its plan for an Indian Federation. In the international field, the CSP is bound by the pacifism of the Congress which expresses itself in its most “racial” form by the demand for a “League of Peoples” instead of an imperialist League of Nations! While having no formal affiliations the CSP is most friendly to the British ILP and often reprints articles of Fenner Brockway, Reynolds, etc., with favorable comment.

* * *

Last year (1937) was one of unparalleled activity for the Indian proletariat. A total of 647,801 workers were on strike, the largest number in India’s history. 110,000 Bombay workers alone took part in a great general strike of jute workers while 91,000 textile workers in Ahmedabad, Cawnpore and Coimbatore went out With a new and aggravated crisis threatening India; with the apparent inability of the present world trade slump to lift, the Indian working class is again threatening action. There is much talk of strike in the jute, textile, transportation and mining fields. The peasants are over-riding their leaders in parts of the country and seizing land from the landlords. The present widespread wave of communal rioting is partly a method of agitation against Hindu money-lenders and landlords; partly inspired by reactionary Muslim League bands. Both are expressions of intense class conflict. The masses of India still constitute a seething volcano of revolutionary discontent which needs only Marxist leadership to set off history’s greatest revolution.

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