From New International, Vol. V No. 2, February 1939, pp. 61–63.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
“One can only speculate regarding the future, but one possibility is that even in our own lifetime we shall see this great creation – the British Empire – crumble and fall to pieces.”
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THE RETURN of Lord Linlithgow, viceroy of India, from the council rooms of Chamberlain has made it clear that the masters of India are prepared to shortly put into effect their Federation scheme. The Times of India, organ of English imperialism, bluntly states that all but minor preparations have been made to enforce this new device by means of which the British raj is to be strengthened and furthered. Reports indicate that the Princes of India’s feudal states, whose consent to Federation is needed, have about completed their secret negotiations with the British and have accepted. The Maharajas of Hyderabad, Baroda, Travancore and Kashmir (most important of the native states) conferred among themselves last November and drew up concrete demands as their price for acceptance. These crafty and absolute dictators feel they can drive a hard bargain with embattled, post-Munich Britain. Above all, they demand suppression of the Indian Nationalist Congress in the British provinces, plus greater support in crushing their own People’s State Congress movement.
Federation is the burning question of India today. It is absolutely synonymous with the question of India’s liberation. Every struggle of the Indian masses in the past five years – from a strike to mass hartal – will assume its ultimate meaning as measured against the approaching Federation war. Successful imposition of their plan by Britain and its native allies would push back the possibilities of a free India perhaps for decades. It is important, therefore, for us to know the provisions of Federation.
Federation “reflects in its content ... merely the determination of British imperialism to beat back the rising tide of mass revolt in India by tightening its octopus hold over the country with the help or a new constitutional machinery.” It is a detailed plan for welding the feudal and land-owning interests together as a bloc and for preparing India for participation in England’s coming wars.
“... it organizes at the top all the anti-democratic and unprogressive vested interests under the direct control of imperialist bureaucracy.”
“British imperialism is attempting to cement all its reactionary alliances, to forge stronger instruments for repression and to tighten its girdle for a fresh and more powerful offensive against the freedom movement of the country.” (Quotations from: The Indian Federation by Z.A. Ahmad.)
Federation tips the balance overwhelmingly in favor of feudal, land-owning (zamindari), banking and finance interests and thus turns the administration of India over to the most reactionary forces. The proposed Federal Constitution will work as follows:
1) The high command will be a British-appointed Governor-General with dictatorial powers. He can veto or approve any bill; prohibit discussion or amendment of any bill; suspend the Constitution; summon or prorogue the Legislature; appoint or dismiss any Minister; make police rules; issue decrees; utilize the armed forces, etc. The cynical British – fearing they may have messed up somewhere – have added in 32 sections powers which this Governor-General may exercize in his individual judgment, without even consulting his self-appointed ministers!
“The Federal Government will thus be in reality a one-man rule, unsurpassed in many respects by oriental despotisms or modern dictatorships.” (Ibid.)
2) Section 5 of the Government of India Act (1935) provides for a Federation composed of the British provinces and acceding native states. Accession of the states is voluntary; that of the provinces compulsory. The states are granted superior positions. Although possessing only 25% of India’s population, they receive in the two-house legislature provided by the act 33% of the seats in the lower house (Federal Assembly) and 40% in the upper house (Council of State). In addition, the Princes may appoint their entire quota of representatives to the legislature, thus forcing the 81 million States people living under their absolute domain to be without any representation. This is part of the basic constitutional provision by means of which the Indian States can retain their present governmental systems of feudal despotism without having to introduce any reforms.
3) The voting system provided for is a throwback to British imperialism’s most reactionary methods. In the Native States there will be no voting whatsoever. In the Provinces, property requirements limit the total vote to 150,000 people. 150,000 may vote out of a total population of 365 millions!
Legislature seats are divided along communal lines. There are special seats for communal minorities in addition to general seats. Moslems, Sikhs, Scheduled Castes, Christians, etc., all have separate elections. Each territorial constituency is split up into communal groupings when voting takes place. This harmonizes with best British “divide and rule” traditions. Its proposal is final proof of the abysmal failure of Gandhi’s civil-disobedience movement of 1931–1933 which was directed primarily against separate electorates.
4) Federal Finances: Over 80% of the Federal budget is non-votable and outside Legislative control. 90% of Federal revenue will be drained from the British provinces; only 10% from the states. The revenue flow provided for will be directed toward the central government and will leave the provinces responsible for the upkeep of the various public services. The effect of this will be that these public services (health, education, medicine, etc.) will “remain as of old – stunted and undeveloped, and the illiteracy, disease and poverty of the people will continue to be as rampant as they have ever been ...”
No trade restrictions against England are permitted; any preferences granted to Indians must likewise be granted to the British; the boards governing the Indian Reserve Bank and railways are to be appointed by the Governor-General. These and a host of other measures will assure the economy of Federated India remaining in the hands of its despoilers.
To summarize: Federation means the forging of an alliance between the British imperialists and the native rulers, landowners, bankers and industrialists – all having as their aim the exploitation of India’s mass population. It means the crushing of the national liberation and revolutionary movements. Federation means a one-man military dictatorship presided over by an English Führer. This is a constitution of slavery and bondage, seeking relentlessly to reinforce the entire system of imperialist exploitation.
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The Indian Nationalist Congress is on record as opposed in principle to Federation. This opposition, however, is purely verbal. The INC today more than ever is dominated by the Gandhi-right wing group of native bourgeois whose interest in “independence” consists in their desire to create an India wherein their own brand of capitalist exploitation may be “freely” employed.
The All-India Congress met during the crucial days of Munich. The outcome of this meeting clearly displayed the INC’s desire to compromise the Federation issue. The nationalist leaders refuse to attack Federation in its vital spots. Their program is expressed by Sardar Patel, leading bourgeois nationalist and the Jim Farley of India. Patel demands of the British an overhauling of the Constitution with an eye to granting more representation to the provinces before the INC will talk compromise. He will accept any agreement that grants a freer hand to the native capitalists. Gone is any idea of unconditional opposition and mass satyagraha (civil disobedience) to Federation. These Congress leaders are unquestionably carrying on secret negotiations with the British authorities.
The AICC met for five days. All it did was to launch a fierce drive against the Congress left wing! A resolution charging the “lefts” with preaching violence and class-struggle was adopted. The left wing was threatened with exclusion. Although war was so close that the British had begun to mobilize native troops and were prepared to outlaw the Congress, no resolution on the subject was adopted. For five days these pathetic “leaders” sat around praying that the war danger would pass over. The right wing was fully prepared to participate in the war as England’s loyal ally. Gandhi conveniently forgot his “non-violence” to justify a war against Hitler. With the exception of the communist party, the left-wing leaned towards pacifism. The Stalinists bleated about the danger from Japanese imperialism and extolled the virtues of the English brand. All in all, the Congress leadership showed itself as spineless and incapable of action. Had war broken out, there is no doubt that an unwilling India would have been forced to participate as Britain’s ally and 1914 would have been repeated.
So stifling was the atmosphere of this AICC meeting that the left wing members staged a demonstrative walk-out. Gandhi, servile tool of the British and native mill-owners, then delivered an ultimatum to the left wing in his weekly paper, Harijan. He is more than ever wrapped up in his credo of non-violence and passive resistance. The Mahatma has by no means finished his career of sabotaging India’s liberation struggles! Lately, he has condemned peaceful picketing by strikers because it may lead to violence. He even frowns upon his own technique of mass satyagraha! To him, the slogan of non-violence is an efficacious corollary in his defense of imperialist violence. The fact that this life-long traitor is still the leading figure in India’s nationalist movement is sufficient indication of the state of affairs. Gandhi is still Britain’s finest policeman in India.
What of the Congress ministries today ruling 8 out of 11 British provinces? Particularly of late have their actions earned the hatred of the peasant and working masses. Let us cite a few examples:
In broader outline, the Congress ministries have done the bidding of the British; supported the employers as against the unions; the landlords as against the peasants. They have moved steadily to the right by ignoring the Election manifesto and have alienated the peasant and toiling masses. Office acceptance – originally explained as a move to win liberation from “within” – has decidedly strengthened the British raj. Moreover, it has provided the governmental staff and apparatus necessary to administer the coming Federation.
The Congress directly sabotages the struggles of the States’ people against their feudal lords. The AICC adopted a resolution re-affirming its official position of “non-interference” in States’ affairs. As late as December 1938 the Congress Working Committee (top leadership) again stated this hands-off position. Thus the Indian nation is divided – by the British and Congress – into two camps. Meanwhile, one can say that the most significant event of the past year has been the mass uprising of the States’ people against their rulers. In Rajkot state a violent battle has been proceeding against the local Maharajah. Gandhi demanded withdrawal of charges against this Prince so that he could negotiate a peaceful settlement. The masses refused and continue their fight. Another example is Travancore – long upheld as a model Indian state. Here the fight against the ruler has been led by a State congress – the praja mandal. Thousands have been jailed, hundreds wounded in street fights, and 40 killed to date. Gandhi demanded suspension of this struggle and met the same refusal. Due to the Congress’ hostile attitude toward them, the States’ people look upon Congress as an enemy organization and appear determined to carry on independently.
The INC’s rapid shift toward reactionary policies has succeeded in dragging the Congress left-wing along with it. This is especially true of the Congress Socialist Party, and its unofficial leaders, Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose. Nehru, just returned from a lengthy tour of Europe and England, arrived amid paens of praise from the Communist Party or India for whom he has apparently become a front. The language of Stalinism – supplied at first hand by his private secretary whose membership in the CP is well known – fits the Pandit well.
“The only possible policy, if Britain believes in democracy [?], is to shed imperialism utterly and rapidly and replace it by free democratic institutions in these [colonial] countries, which instead of weakening it will then be powerful allies.” (Nehru, The Congress Socialist, Nov. 20, 1938.)
In other words, for a mess of constitutional reforms Nehru will become Britain’s loyal ally. He also proposes a real “collective security.” Henceforth Nehru takes his place in the list of Stalinist fronts, to be cynically tossed aside after serving his purpose. Let him remember the fate of a Largo Caballero!
Nor does Subhas Bose, Congress President, offer a more revolutionary appearance. This pitiful “leader” wallows in the wake of the Congress right wing, invariably “compromising” the uncompromisible by accepting the High Command’s dictate. He is silent on the many crimes committed by Congress against workers and peasants. On the Federation issue he says, “If Federation is imposed, we shall have to resist it by non-violence and if necessary [!] by a civil-disobedience movement.” This petty-bourgeois democrat understands nothing of Gandhi’s failure and is fully prepared to again break the neck of the liberation movement. These men are simply leaders without program.
The reaction of the Socialist party to the offensive launched against it by the Congress right wing was to beat a hasty retreat – almost a rout! At the AICC meeting they had no independent plan of action against war and Federation. Pacifist phraseology was their contribution. When Gandhi threatened to split the Congress, Masani, acting secretary of the party offered to have anyone expelled from his party who was caught advocating “class struggle or violence”! Masani, “extreme” left-winger, author of fine articles on the Moscow Trials and the war question, blossomed forth as a Gandhist policeman! In this age of centrism the cleavage between words and deeds assumes Hamlet-like proportions in men like Masani. Behind the ancient cry of “Don’t split the Congress,” the CSP indulges in endless capitulation to the High Command.
The Bombay general strike of Nov. 7 measured the merit of each left wing organization. This strike arose from an attempt of the Congress ministry to adopt a reactionary labor bill demanding class peace and approaching forced arbitration of strikes. The bill encouraged company unionism and challenged elementary labor rights. The All-India Trade Union Congress condemned the bill. The Bombay unions prepared for mass opposition. But the Congress Socialists brought everlasting discredit to their organization by accepting, “with reservations” this bill. They proposed amendments. When the unions decided to have a general strike, the Bombay CSP refused support and insolently withdrew from the entire struggle. They were with Congress, right or wrong. Aside from completely discrediting themselves in the eyes of the Bombay proletariat – the most advanced of all India – the CSP turned over strike leadership to the Stalinists and the notorious Dr. Ambedkar, demagogic head of a reactionary communal movement. Dr. Ambedkar, posing as the leader of a militant workers’ party seems to have gained the most. The tragedy of the entire matter is that this former British stooge has now become the unquestioned leader of Bombay’s Hindu “untouchable” workers.
The strike failed to prevent adoption of the Black Bill. But it did demonstrate an enthusiasm for battle on the part of Bombay’s workers. An estimated 150,000 to 20,000 participated in a 24-hour strike despite police firings and repression. But its Stalinist, communal leadership had no aim beyond that of winning a temporary, demagogic influence over the masses. After the strike, the CSP issued a smug statement claiming events had justified their boycott. It will pay dearly for its withdrawal from and condemnation of this proletarian activity. A so-called “revolutionary socialist” party that refused to lead anxious workers may find itself in rapid decline unless it makes a sharp re-evaluation. As for the Stalinists – threatened with exclusion by the Bombay Congress – they are already abjectly apologizing. Bombay’s militant proletariat is leaderless and victimized.
The course of this strike is a significant example of two major tendencies – both equally soothing to Britain’s fears of losing India – that account for present Indian politics. On the one hand, the INC has adopted a direct anti-working class and anti-peasant policy as part of its real aim of compromising Federation. On the other hand, the so-called “left wing” prepares the masses for passive acceptance of the approaching Slave Federation by failing to offer a program of action, a goal or leadership worthy of the name. One must frankly state that unless drastic changes take place, a terrible catastrophe will befall India’s workers and peasants – namely, imposition of Federation.
The masses of enslaved Indians have long outgrown Gandhism. For decades they have been ready to push ahead to decisive combats with the British raj. A signal to launch a mass attack on Federation would be only too welcome. Will India accept Federation? Or will a war against Federation be the start of a direct struggle for independence, developing into a colonial workers and peasants socialist revolution?
Last updated: 28 November 2015