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Sherman Stanley

Eton Brahmin

Review of book by Jawaharlal Nehru
Toward Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru
John Day (Publisher), 1941. 448 pgs.

(April 1941)

From The New International, Vol. 7 No. 3, April 1941, pp. 63–64.
Transcribed & marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE Autobiography of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, internationally known leader of India’s nationalist movement, has appeared in a special American edition. Already well publicized in the liberal press, it would be surprising if this volume did not enjoy a wide circulation among middle class and petty bourgeois reading audiences. For next to the Mahatma himself, Nehru has been the most popular figure to emerge from the turbulent Indian scene. His aristocratic bearing; his sweeping literary and oratorical style, heavily tinged with “romantic idealism”; his lofty Brahmanical descent; his unquestionable personal sacrifices for Indian nationalism – all these characteristics have endeared him to the petty bourgeois radicals of the world.

It is false to describe Nehru as a leader of the radical petty bourgeoisie of India – akin, for example, to Haya de la Torre in Peru, or Wang Chin-wei in those by-gone days when he played with the Comintern. Rather, he is a deliberate spokesman for and exponent of the feeble Indian merchant and trading bourgeoisie. In the backward, semi-feudal atmosphere of India all images tend to become distorted and shifted “leftward” on the political spectroscope. A native bourgeois, relegated to a decidedly inferior position by his rival British fellow-exploiters, speaks the language of a radical democrat; a genuine member of the petty bourgeoisie indulges in the most “revolutionary” phrase-mongering. It is to the former category that Nehru belongs.

My first (and last) meeting with Nehru took place at the home of one of his sisters, shortly before his arrest. At that time the Congress had been pushed to the wall by the iron stand of British imperialism. The issue was clear: To yield or launch a nationwide mass struggle. A special session of the All-India Congress Committee was to be held at Poona with the objective of making definitive decisions. In visiting Nehru, I wished to learn from him – a member of the Congress – Working (Political) Committee – what could be expected at the Poona session.

His grande entree into the room from a nearby balcony, along with his obvious patronizing air (in sharp contrast to the more welcome and sincere humble mannerisms of Gandhi) made a most unpleasant impression. In the course of a four-hour discussion his personal characteristics became more marked. Nehru is both pompous and pretentious; arrogant and self-conscious when one touches his own weaknesses and constant vacillations. That “sensitiveness of character,” so often eulogized in the works of modern Indian poets and writers whose ideal he is, merely reflects his self-embarrassment before his own incompetence, inability to rise to the capacity of revolutionary leadership, ineffectiveness in grasping the complexities of modern politics. The constantly reiterated theme of his talks and speeches is, “I do not know what will happen. The sands of time are running out. All is chaos.” The Brahman of Eton has been well dubbed “India’s High Priest of Confusion.”

It is impossible in this review to give a detailed description of his lengthy political life. Those desiring that can easily obtain it from either the English or American editions of his Autobiography, which is sufficiently self-revealing. Instead we shall list the essential characteristics that have highlighted his career – characteristics that have determined till now his political career. There is no reason to foresee any change.

  1. Above all, Nehru has been the “youth adjutant” of Mahatma Gandhi, both as practical organizer and exponent of his philosophy. At times of severe crises in Gandhi’s movement (for example, in 1933) Nehru has wandered slightly afield, but invariably returns to the oracle of ahimsa and satyagraha. Attempts to adapt trade union and peasant union policy to Gandhism are special assignments laid at the door of Nehru.
  2. “Nehru symbolizes India. He is above Congress factions.” This is the typical petty bourgeois appreciation of the man. It does accurately describe the particular historic part he has attempted to fulfill. As is always the case, his “non-factional” attitude toward internal struggles of the Congress has meant support to Gandhi and the die-hard ideologists of the Indian colonial bourgeoisie. Not a single illustration can be cited wherein Nehru has opposed Gandhi and his “High Command” on an important issue and sided with left-wing Congress elements. At the Tripuri Congress sessions during the Popular Front period, the Stalinists proclaimed the slogan of a “united march to Gandhi’s little hut.” Nehru has always been the doormat of welcome that lies at the entrance to the Mahatma’s dak bungalow.
  3. As a popular journalist and lecturer, Nehru is distinguished for his superficial judgments and shallow analyses. His World History, autobiography and popular pamphlets and lectures belong to the H.G. Wells school of writing. With the exception of some writings on Indian language problems, not a single serious work can be accredited to him. The same frothy sentimentalizing and woolly thinking that characterize his political life are shown in his writings.
  4. During the days of the Popular Front, Nehru donned the armor of the Hindu St. George and became the champion of the “anti-imperialist united front of all classes.” Thus, his closest approach to “revolutionary Marxism” found him pulled in tow by the Stalinists. Probably this period marked the height of his public career. Already idealized by the colonial bourgeoisie and its wing of professional intelligentsia, Jawaharlal Nehru was paraded before the proletarian and peasant masses of India by the Communist and Congress Socialist Parties. His preceeding history enabled him to fit the part perfectly. [1]
  5. In India’s bourgeois nationalist politics, all roads lead to Gandhi. Today, Nehru is the prisoner of the Congress Working Committee (High Command) which has, in turn, delegated all its powers to the Mahatma for the duration of the current “Limited Civil Disobedience Campaign.” In the swift maneuvers and sudden shifts that have occurred in Congress policy and inner organization since the end of the Popular Front period – all aimed at destroying the authority of the general left-wing forces within the Congress – Nehru has been a reluctant, embarrassed but acquiescent participant. In the purging of Stalinist elements, in the smashing of Subhas Bose’s “Forward Bloc,” in the drive against Congress labor and peasant leaders, in the treacherous Gandhi-Viceroy negotiations, in the deliberate Gandhi policy of preventing a mass struggle under war conditions – in all these sustained actions of the Indian bourgeoisie the High Priest of U.P. has tendered his support to his fellow members of the Working Committee. His war record is as black and cowardly as that of every other aged, doddering and religious devotee of the High Command.

The Second World War aroused violent indignation among India’s masses. This opposition forced a hasty retreat on the part of British imperialism. The authorities attempted to cajole and bargain with the Congress, on the basis of vague, post-war promises. Despite Gandhi’s willingness to reach an agreement it proved impossible because tens of millions had learned the lesson of 1914–1918.

Where has Nehru been during these critical days – days that will obviously determine the fate of the Congress movement. “But sometimes there is an escape for a while at least from this world. Last month I went back to Kashmir after an absence of twenty-three years ... I wandered about the valley and the mountains, and climbed a glacier ...” In the field of politics, this “escapism” and unwillingness to measure up to his responsibilities is expressed in the following way: “... for we could not wholly forget the old lesson which Gandhi had taught us, that our objective should not be to embarrass the opponent in his hour of need.” (Our emphasis.)

And therein is expressed in its totality the abysmal capitulation of Nehru before British imperialism! Understanding that only a nationwide mass struggle can seriously disturb the British, the Etonian Brahman hides his political treachery under the Marquis of Queensbury rules, as though one could reduce the struggle of India against Britain to the level of a prize fight. Since the war began Nehru has dragged himself along behind Gandhi, barked sharply at all left-wing Congress elements and breathed the enfeebling air of compromise.

We have already mentioned the historic Poona session of the Congress Executive Committee. Nothing could be more revealing with respect to the bourgeois, reactionary character of Nehru than the part he played at this meeting.

The Congress Working Committee, striving in despair to negotiate a last-minute bargain with the imperialists, had offered – in the so-called Delhi resolution – to form a united partnership with the British and support the war cooperatively. They were prepared to drop the traditional Congress doctrine of “non-violence.” (Of course, nothing ever came of this shameful proposition.) Nehru, an uncomfortable member of the Working Committee, was supposed to lead the fight against the Delhi resolution when it came up for approval by the Congress Executive at Poona.

After the Congress left-wing forces (Congress Socialists and Stalinists, primarily) had denounced the resolution as an abandonment of the anti-war struggle, Nehru rose to speak. In the turgid, confused language peculiar to the man he proceeded to state his “position.” 1) “As a member of the Working Committee I assume full responsibility for this resolution.” (Applause from the majority right-wing section.) 2) “As you know, I do not feel very sure with respect to this proposal.” (Applause from the left-wing minority.) And then, in the voting, to prove himself a man of steadfast principle Nehru proceeded to abstain! In a word, this three-dimensional politician was “for,” “against” and “neutral” on the self-same measure!

Yet more revealing was his personal defense against the charge launched by the Stalinists that he had completely lost contact with the peasant and working masses. After making an undignified and demagogic red-baiting attack upon the Left, Nehru proclaimed, “I represent the dignity of India in the world of international affairs. I do not speak the language of the market place!

True indeed. It is in the village market place that the kisans gather and find themselves victimized and exploited by landlord, money-lender and imperialist official. The economic struggles of the peasantry are centered about the crass, materialist “market place” that Nehru despises. And in the cities it is the same. The market place or bazaar is the gathering spot for the textile, jute and steel mill workers. It is the organizing ground for the trade unions. Nehru never did nor ever will speak this language. His is the language of bourgeois diplomacy and self-deceit which – against the background of downtrodden, colonial India – can only be a language of compromise and capitulation.

When Nehru was recently arrested for violating the Defense of India Act he refused to defend himself in the imperialist courtroom. “From your point of view,” he said, “you are perfectly right in sentencing me.” Disappointed in the stubborn and adamant attitude of the British who refuse to bargain with such men as himself, the Pandit is sunk in despair, resignation and self-abnegation. In this he is typical of the Indian bourgeoisie.

The lesson of Nehru’s career is clear. The Indian native capitalist class – infinitely more than its Russian counterpart of the Kerensky period – is incapable of advancing even on the first stages of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, except under the most violent mass pressure. If the colonial bourgeois leadership was a reactionary brake in Lenin’s time, in 1941 its progressive capacities are close to exhaustion and extinction. The leadership of India’s revolutionary nationalism is and remains in the hands of the workers. While a politically and spiritually bankrupt Nehru rots in an imperialist cell the newly-created section of the Fourth International conducts its work among the peasant and proletarian masses of India.


1. The shameless American Stalinists continue to play up Nehru as a national revolutionary leader and a sympathizer of Stalinist policy. Considering the denunciations – violent to the point of red-baiting – which Nehru has unleashed against their Indian comrades, one might expect Stalinist recognition that this honeymoon – like so many others – has gone over Niagara.

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