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Sherman Stanley

Gandhi Fast Is Forerunner
of Major Indian Struggles

(March 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 14, 10 March 1939, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Since the article printed below was written, Gandhi has ended his fast at the request of the Viceroy of India, thus once again capitulating to British imperialism. The analysis of Gandhi’s role in the Indian situation is, of course, in no way changed; if anything it is made clearer.

* * *

In tiny Rajkot – a minor state with 75,540 people, located in the Kathiawar area of Western India and ruled over by a feudal lord with absolute powers – Mohandas K. Gandhi, conservative and compromising leader of nationalist India is conducting another of his hunger strikes “unto death.”

The 69-year old Gandhi, now weighing less than 80 pounds, has launched another of his dramatic, individualistic acts because of the failure of the Thakore Sahib (29-year old feudal lord) to live up to an agreement that had been made between Gandhi and himself.

For the past four months the workers, peasants and villagers of Rajkot have conducted a militant struggle against the dictatorial ruler and his corrupt administration. The total income of the Raja in the past four years has amounted to $2,300,000. This has been sweated out of the 65 peasant villages in the State.

Civil Liberties Unknown

Today the treasury is empty. Out of this money all but $8,000 was spent on the ruler and his numerous vices. The $8,000 constitutes the sum total spent on “education” over four years! It is estimated that the Thakore Sahib spends $720 per day on himself. His despotic privileges include that of making the people work at forced labor. Civil liberties are unknown to Rajkot.

It was against this tyranny that the masses, organized in their Praja Mandal (States’ People Congress), rose. Their mass processions, demonstrations and militant actions defied the repression of the Thakore and his British advisor, Sir Patrick Cadell. Police beatings, arrests, firings and terror did not stop the workers and peasants. Rajkot became the symbol of Rebel India. From outside this state thousands of left-wing nationalists and socialists poured in to aid their brothers.

Tool of Britain

Behind the Thakore Sahib stands the entire British Empire. This ruler is but a willing tool in the hands of the British imperialist slave masters. They can feel beneath Rajkot a surging current of mass discontent rapidly gathering speed all over India. The 365 million people of India are fed up with British military and slave “democracy.” They are ready – for the third time since the World War – to march forward and do battle with the hated oppressors from over the seas. The Rajkot struggle is but the vanguard of mightier struggles to come.

And so when the action of Rajkot’s people had brought the Thakore to his knees and forced him to dismiss his British advisor, the British decided to make a test-case. The Thakore had signed an agreement with Gandhi permitting him to appoint a 10-man, representative commission to draw up a new democratic constitution. Under pressure from the British, he rejected the proposed list Gandhi had drawn up and announced the end of the agreement. The British Resident announced a no-compromise fight was on. A mass general stoppage of work immediately swept the entire state.

Masses Desert Gandhi

This is the background of the present Gandhi fast. But beneath lies a still more basic reason. India’s masses have long outgrown the conservative and compromising tactics of Gandhi. Time after time have they been led by the Mahatma into battle with the British and then, at the decisive moment, he and his middle-class following have deserted.

The Indian Nationalist Congress which Gandhi has led since 1919 and which is the mass nationalist movement of the country with a membership of 4½ million, has begun to reject Gandhi’s pacifist, half-way measures. The Congress rank and file bitterly oppose the People’s Front methods employed by the Gandhi-ist right-wing politicians who hold political power in 8 out of India’s 11 provinces.

The waning influence of Gandhi was clearly displayed at the recent election of the new president of the Congress when his nominee was defeated by the candidate of the Congress socialists and left-wing elements. It is this new generation of radical fighters who have challenged Gandhi’s 20-year old leadership. Gandhi has undertaken his demagogic and sensationalistic action in a desperate effort to place himself once again at the head of India’s mass movement.

Diverts Struggle

Instead of drawing up a plan of action against the British; instead of summoning the workers and peasants into mass action against their rulers; instead of urging the peasants to seize the land and the workers to take over control of India’s industry Gandhi – like the shrewd and clever politician he is – is attempting to center all attention upon himself and divert the masses from the real business at hand. This is the real meaning of his dramatic action. Gandhi will try to place himself at the head of India’s marching armies – the better to strangle them!

But this time the masses cannot be deceived so easily. If Gandhi can offer nothing but his old tricks he’ll soon be left far behind. The third mass movement of India since the war threatens already to outstrip the others in scope and in extent. Previous Appeal issues have described the wave of peasant actions and labor strikes now going on. Already there are reports that the Congress ministries may be forced to resign due to mass pressure from the Congress rank and file.

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