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Sherman Stanley

How Gandhi ‘Fought’ the Last War

(17 November 1939))

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 88, 17 November 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is instructive to contrast the records and activities of Mohandas K. Gandhi, leader of the 5,000,000 strong Indian Nationalist Congress, in the last war and the present war.

Gandhi, just returned from South Africa where he had first developed his theories and methods of non-violent, passive resistance, rapidly asserted himself as the leading figure of India’s nationalist cause.

The Congress, which previously had been a small pro-British organization of wealthy Indian “liberals” and civil service bureaucrats, began to grow rapidly under his leadership. It became a mass organization of the Indian middle class.

A Summary of His 1914–1918 Record

When the war began, Gandhi, in consultation with leading British authorities in India, gave his unqualified and unhesitating support to the war. He proclaimed that it was a war for right and justice.

And what of India ? Why should she support the war? Gandhi accepted completely certain vague promises (which were never kept) made by the British Viceroy. Nothing concrete was given. Gandhi became an open recruiting agent for the British. He toured the country raising money, troops, etc. He urged Hindu and Moslem alike to join the British armies.

What was the result? India sent more men into action than all of the British dominions combined (close to 2,000,000). They fought in France, China, the Gallipoli peninsula, Arabia, etc. Hundreds of thousands died, particularly in the Dardanelles. A stream of wealth poured from India into the British war chest. The British plundered the country to satisfy the needs of the war. India mobilized its huge manpower and resources for the British ... and obtained absolutely nothing.

Gandhi’s Record Today and What It Means

When the Second imperialist World War opened up, Gandhi expressed his immediate willingness to perform his 1914 role all over again. He alone of the Congress Executive Committee wanted to give unconditional support to the British. He didn’t even ask for any promises as he had in 1914! He was prepared to betray the nationalist cause even more shamefully!

But not the millions of workers and peasants. If Gandhi had proceeded in his first intentions when the war began, he would have been knocked aside and uprooted like a sapling in a thunderstorm. He would have lost his entire following and influence. For India refused to support dying British imperialism under any conditions. That is the will of the people.

This is the explanation for the militant stand taken today by Gandhi. He reflects the ferment, the action, the determination of India’s masses. His latest demand for immediate independence (without going through stages) expresses the desire of every Indian worker and peasant. The Congress slogan of a freely elected Constituent Assembly for India is the burning revolutionary slogan of the hour, rallying tens of millions to its banner. Gandhi, desiring to stay at the head of the masses so as to prevent the movement from developing too rapidly and becoming revolutionary, is forced to swing into line.

Every revolutionary worker will give his full support to the freedom demand and endorse the proposed Constituent Assembly. But he will have not the slightest trust or confidence in Mahatma Gandhi or the conservative leaders who surround him. Their desire is not for a genuine revolutionary struggle, but to remain at the head of the masses so as to hold them within the bounds of ‘legality” and pacifism.

What is the meaning of the complete change in Gandhi’s attitude since the war began? Without the slightest hesitation we can state that India today is a seething cauldron, bursting with the revolutionary energy of the masses. It is the workers and peasants of India who have already given the first call to revolt against the imperialist war. They are acting and forcing the Gandhists to act with them. The revolutionary upsurge of India has just begun!

It is carrying Gandhi along in spite of himself. Once it begins to feel its full strength and to reach out for freedom and revolutionary power, it will lightly toss aside Gandhi or anyone else who stands in its way.

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Last updated: 15 April 2018