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Henry Judd

The Future of India

(December 1941)

From The New International, Vol. VII No. 11, December 1941, pp. 299–303.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE PROCESSES of revolutionary development and the working out of socialist programs of action are far more complex than is usually believed. Only the methods of long and stubborn analysis, patient checking and re-checking of accumulated experience can answer what is clearly the most difficult problem of our time – the building of the Marxian socialist party supported by the masses of people.

World War II has shown that, with respect to India and its approaching colonial revolution, there has been a lack of a serious class analysis of the problems laced by this most important section of the colonial world. The Workers Party has sketched, in broad terms, its position advocating the organization and triumph of the Third Camp – the camp of independent world labor opposed to the two existing imperialist camps. Naturally, this remains valid as a succinct summation of historic proletarian strategy. But the revolt of the colonial world against oppression – the mass base of the world movement to socialism, representing close to one and a half billion people, or two-thirds of humanity – is a highly difficult and complex process.

Thus, concretely, the question of the Indian Revolution is not simply a matter of 389,000,000 Hindus and Moslems rising up in wrath and driving out the two-century old British oppressor, under the banner of the Third Camp. Every petty bourgeois “liberal” and dilettante has, for years and years, gushed tons of watery emotionalism about the “sufferings and exploitation of the Indian masses.” It is (or was!) the stock argument in dealing with British propagandist and imperialist agents. “Why don’t you free India?” Whereupon, Mr. Englishman would give his stock reply, to which Mr. Liberal, entirely ignorant of anything but the most superficial aspects of the question, would generally have no retort.

However, India needs not sympathy, nor lengthy listings of the multitude of British crimes and techniques of exploitation. It needs what the primitive and elementary character of its revolutionary movement have long denied it:

  1. A sharp posing of the various problems – internal and external – faced by the revolution;
  2. An analysis of class forces and class relations within the country, particularly the relation between the worker and the petty bourgeoisie;
  3. A balance sheet to be drawn of two decades of Gandhist and Indian National Congress experience, particularly in the light of the present war;
  4. A revolutionary perspective to be drawn; a perspective having as its axis the specific application of the theory of the permanent revolution and the organization of the Indian revolutionary party.

It is not the writer’s intention to wrestle with or attempt to solve the above listed points. Although such efforts have been made easier for us by the lengthy Russian experience culminating in the Russian Revolution, the most difficult problems are those that lie hidden in the differences, not the similarities. Thus, India – as so many Marxists think – is not China. Trotsky wrote voluminously on the Chinese question and from the betrayal of its revolution drew many valuable lessons, including the brilliant summary in thesis form of his theory of the permanent revolution (The Permanent Revolution) . But he wrote little about India and then only in generalities. But India and China differ considerably, in important respects.

Problems of the Indian Struggle

For example, China is a semi-colonial country, with a recognized and recognizable bourgeoisie and a lengthy nationalist and revolutionary experience. India is a colonial country, however, with a sub-normal and barely discernible bourgeois class of compradores. Problems of the peasantry, of relations with the imperialist ruling power, of language, of national unification, etc., differ greatly in China and India.

Nor is it simply a matter of writing correct Marxist histories of India, with the correct social and economic descriptions. Some fine work has been done in this important field, not excluding the writings of the notorious Anglo-Indian Stalinist, R. Palme-Dutt! No, there is far more to its than that. For example, merely to list some of the problems that come under heading (1) – internal and external questions of the Indian Revolution – will give some idea of its complexity. India is ruled by a “bloc of imperialists with the feudal and national bourgeoisie” (Trotsky). What are the relations between, and the divisions within, these ruling groups? Are the rajahs, maharajahs and nizams feudal lords – to be overthrown by a repetition of the French Revolution of 1789? Is there a “general” peasant question? What do the broad divisions among the peasantry signify? What are the specific characteristics of the Indian proletariat? Of the new, war-created layers of workers? Why is Indian trade unionism completely different from trade unionism in advanced capitalist nations? Is there a language problem? What is the real Hindu-Moslem problem (one of the most grossly misunderstood things about modern India) ? What part do the so-called religions of India (Hinduism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism, etc.) play in the life of the masses? Is there a caste problem? What have been the special effects of the law of uneven development as manifested in India?

As we have already indicated, it is not the writer’s objective to deal at length with these questions. Most of them will have to be answered ultimately by the revolutionary regroupment now taking place in the Indian revolutionary vanguard – a vanguard significantly headed by the Indian adherents of a Fourth International. At present we wish to deal primarily with point (3), a balance sheet of 20 years of Nationalist experience in the light of the Second World War, with the specific aim of posing for discussion a new perspective and a new strategy for India’s revolutionary nationalists.

The Influence of Gandhi

In 1921, at the height of the post-war upsurge, Mohandas K. Gandhi took over leadership of the Indian National Congress. This organization which, until the war period, had been a fraternal association of ambitious Hindus and English imperialists, became the organized medium of Indian nationalism, dominated by the war-created native bourgeoisie and the textile mill owners of Bombay. Exactly two decades have passed since then. During this period the INC has, on the whole, controlled the political scene in India and Gandhi has remained at the helm.

The essential problems of 1941 are the same as those of 1921. Namely, the question of national liberation from the imperialist yoke and a solution of the agrarian question. Unlike most people believe, there is no serious problem of national unification if the relatively unimportant question of the “native” states is discounted. Linguistically and culturally, India is far more unified than most of its sympathizers know. The Moslem and Hindu masses long ago solved the artificially induced “national minority problem.” We must again repeat – India is not China – in many respects its revolutionary problems are simpler and less difficult of solution.

But 20 years of Gandhism has not advanced the nation a single step toward its goal. The imperialist fetters still bind it, all constitutional and parliamentary gains have been negated by the New Constitution and wartime dictatorial rule of the Viceroy; the agrarian question is as acute as ever; national poverty accompanied by huge unemployment, lack of education, social services, etc., remain just as before. Furthermore, in the political field, the only step forward has been (1) the birth and growth of the Trade Union Congress; (2) the development of various left-wing Marxist tendencies among the youth. Thus, only the Indian proletariat has made the slightest ideological or organizational advance in two decades!

What has been the historic objective of the Congress during this time? Trotsky describes his conception of proletarian and peasant unity as “an alliance of the proletariat and peasantry in struggle against the liberal bourgeoisie.” The situation in India has been the opposite – an alliance of the peasant and worker with the liberal bourgeois against the foreign imperialist. Naturally, as in the case of the Chinese Kuomintang, this “alliance” has meant the subordination of the peasant and worker to the limited objectives of the native capitalist and landlord.

What have been these objectives? Let us recall what Trotsky wrote about the Russian liberal bourgeoisie in 1905. “Our liberal bourgeoisie comes forward as counter-revolutionary even before the revolutionary climax. In every critical moment, our intellectual democracy only demonstrates its impotence.” (Natchalo) The liberal layers of Indian society are even more miserable; they aim primarily at preventing a revolutionary climax. Their greatest objective has been to share power with the British rulers (National Government at the Center), in exchange for the annihilation of internal peasant or labor movements. More important are the economic concessions it has always demanded: control of tariff boards, of internal revenue and taxation systems, of the India Reserve Bank. Thus, to it, the nationalist movement is a favored weapon in the struggle for its own profits and prestige. (We must never forget the sub-imperialist exploitation carried on by these gentlemen in the crown colony of Burma.)

Forestalling the Freedom of India

Did this liberal nationalist leadership ever seriously propose or work for the liberation of India? Absolutely not! The proof of this charge lies in the Gandhist methods employed for 20 years. Why these peculiar methods? Why these unique doctrines of ahimsa (non-violence), satyagraha (passive resistance); why all this emphasis on religion and ethics in a political movement? Not only does it reflect the pathetic and feeble character of the native bourgeoisie but – and this is most important – it constitutes an ideological disarming of the nationalist masses in advance of the struggle. For two decades the Gandhist doctrine has succeeded in solving the great dilemma of the Hindu capitalists: to organize a mass pressure movement that will be strong enough to win limited engagements with the imperialist master, but weak enough to be firmly yoked when the elemental forces at work within the movement threatened to precipitate revolutionary action (peasant and worker uprisings). The fact that the Indian capitalist class has succeeded in getting away with this deceitful act; this farce which is enacted on an unbelievably primitive plane (as anyone who has witnessed any official Congress session can testify) – only indicates the unfortunately low level of the labor movement in general and the left-wing movement in particular. “An insufficiently prepared proletariat unable to unite the peasantry behind it cannot bring the democratic revolution to its conclusion.” (Trotsky) This is the tragedy of India – “an insufficiently prepared proletariat.”

Over two years of the Second World War have destroyed remaining illusions among the most naive Congress radicals about the capitulatory character of the Gandhian leadership. It has displayed its own bankruptcy in the most shameful fashion to the world labor movement. But there is more than cowardice behind its policy.

The cynical manner in which British imperialism dragged India into the war found a violent response on the part of the working and peasant masses. The nation was swept by strikes in the great industrial centers (Bombay, Cawnpore, Calcutta); the peasants in various areas (Punjab, Orissa, etc.) rose in local revolts; the middle class intellectuals and students were aroused as never before. From a cocksure position that India would support the war, the British authorities hastily retreated to a position from which they hoped to win the neutrality of India. ]t was clear at once that 1914 could not be repeated; the alternative was (1) a turbulent and rebellious India or (2) a passive, quiescent India. On the basis of postwar promises, the imperialists set out to soothe the troubled waters. Automatically, they turned to the Congress bourgeois leadership, to Gandhi.

The Nationalist Leadership and the War

What was the response of the nationalist leadership? Precisely what the imperialists desired – steps and measures which have made it possible for them to fulfill their most optimistic variant: a calming of the atmosphere which enabled an important industrial growth (munitions field) and a limited military mobilization for overseas service. Congress steps and measures can be summed up as follows: (1) Assurance that no effort would be made to hamper any type of war efforts (collections, mobilizations, transportation to foreign territories, etc.); (2) Refusal to launch any sort of anti-war mass movement even along traditional Gandhian “non-violent” lines; (3) A concerted drive within the Congress against the general left-wing Congress bloc consisting of radical nationalists, socialists, Stalinists, etc., and (4) Proposal of various concrete plans establishing a modus vivendi for joint rule (Delhi resolution of the Congress committee, suggestions of Gandhi, etc.) in exchange for full support to the war. Despite the adamant position of the ruling powers the Congress, by abandoning all its slogans of independence, convening of a constituent assembly, withdrawal of the “New Constitution” and even abandoning its historic objection to defense of the country from external attack by violent methods, has done everything in its power to arrive at an agreeable bargain. The fact that no agreement has yet been reached is hardly due to their unwillingness!

But the imperialist masters, understanding the people with whom they were dealing a good deal better than many Congress “left-wingers,” would not yield a single inch. Therefore, in 1940, the Gandhian farce took a different form – a so-called overt action. The Congress high command organized a “limited civil disobedience” campaign in the course of which various Congress leaders, petty officials and professional satyagrahis offered themselves for arrest – a request which the British gladly fulfilled. It was made clear to the masses, of course, that they were forbidden to participate in this “campaign”; only the chosen of the Mahatma were worthy of occupying British cells! But today, after one year, even this ludicrous pretense at opposition to the war has been abandoned and the “martyrs” are slowly being released from the jails. The beginning of 1942 finds a return to the original policy of seeking a workable agreement with the British, based on deceptive promises. But Churchill’s announcement that the “Atlantic Charter” and the “Four Freedoms” do not apply to Empire has given the new campaign an inauspicious start. The Congress executive body is, at the moment, preparing a new offer for submission to the Viceroy and the authorities.

Destruction of the Congress Left Wing

The most substantial victory – the only victory – scored by the Congress has been the almost complete rout and destruction of the various left-wing forces within the Nationalist ranks. The most die-hard imperialist could not have hoped for more! The “Forward” bloc of Subhas Bose has been annihilated and its leader has sold himself to the Axis totalitarians; the radical peasant unions within the Congress have lost their leadership; the Congress Socialist Party, as a first-hand report expresses it, has been “scattered to the winds and is a hollow shell of its former self.” Naturally, the Stalinists have offered their services to the government. The “left-wing” is broken; politically and organizationally bankrupt; victim of its own subservience to Gandhian policy; refusal to grasp the backsliding and counter-revolutionary role of the native bourgeoisie and lack o£ faith in its own maturity and ability to present an independent program to the country. These are the hard facts – refusal to recognize them could only mean a continuation of the old dull game of “national front,” whereas a drastic break with the last 20 years is required.

This, in general, is the situation in India after two years of the war. Admittedly not conducive to optimistic prospects, nevertheless it is vital for a realization of the difficult problems of the colonial revolution. In the balance of the colonial world – particularly those sections of Asia and the Near East that have been directly affected by the military struggle – other optimistic expectations have not been lived up to. Instead, the colonial masses have remained passive pawns in the inter-imperialist struggle; refusing to support either imperialist camp, but thus far proving incapable of independent action against the imperialists. Unoccupied China has become a harassing and guerilla force at the service of the Anglo-American camp; the Malayan and Indonesian masses maintain a strict neutrality; in the Near Eastern areas the Egyptian, Arabian and North African colonials are similarly quiescent; the colonials of Indo-China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Syria, Iraq have accepted with indifference and passivity a change in the imperialist overlordship. Clearly what is here involved is an international phenomena, characteristic of the colonial world on a world scale.

The Basis of Nationalist Neutrality

In our opinion, there are three causes behind this policy of “unarmed neutrality.” First, the colonial masses understand that the imperialist rivals now joined in the Second World War have not yet reached the military crest of their struggles – the crest beyond which lies increasing exhaustion, decline in military strength and internal demoralization. The imperialist grip is still powerful. Secondly, if the rôle of the national bourgeoisie in the last World War was capitulatory and reactionary, it is infinitely more so today. That is, capitalist decline has proceeded so rapidly, class relations in the colonies have become so tense that the field of operations of the colonial bourgeois class has narrowed down close to non-existence. The native capitalists have little opportunity of independent growth; still less opportunity of gaining concessions; and a greater fear than ever of precipitating a struggle for the national democratic revolution. And finally, with the elimination of the Communist International from any progressive role in the colonial world, the problem of revolutionary leadership has had to be posed all over again.

These generalizations apply with special force to India. British imperialism has calculatingly organized an impressive mobilization in that country – native mercenary troops, English troops, soldiers of the white Dominions (New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, etc.). In addition, there remain as before the native princes, civil service bureaucracy, network of secret police and spies, etc. Most important has been the proven bankruptcy of the native bourgeoisie, represented by the Congress. To quote from the previously mentioned report: “It is impotent and lacks confidence. Faced with the question of power, it feels itself historically incapable of assuming any responsibility on its own. It is far too weak as a class and far too closely intertwined with pure British capital, especially with respect to the new war industries. [1] It dreads the very thought of power because it knows the impossibility of any bourgeois solution to the agrarian, labor or international problems which would immediately arise.” The war industry expansion that has taken place stems from British capital, aided and supplemented by native capital. Thus, its only progressive effect – and an important one – is to increase the specific weight of the Indian proletariat in the general population. It does not increase the nationalism or “will to resist” of the native capitalist class!

As for our third generalization, the Fourth International has only first begun its work on Indian soil – significantly, during the war – while the Stalinists have now completely sold themselves in the manner of their Malayan brothers to the British imperialists. The radical democrats of the “Forward” bloc have been eliminated from the scene, as well as the radical congressmen of M.N. Roy, who preceded the Stalinists in offering their services to the rulers. The left-wingers, in a word, have been cut loose from their traditional moorings.

The treacherous policy of the Congress has been accompanied by a symptomatic and rapid degeneration in the composition of its membership. “Congress influence has gone down considerably and its membership is more largely urban petty bourgeois than ever before. The growth of various reactionary communal, pro-Nazi and gangster groups further testifies to this decline in composition.” The Congress has never permitted unions, parties or organizations of workers and peasants to affiliate with it, while maintaining their structural independence. Its isolation from and spurning of these movements is more apparent today than ever before.

Conclusions and Proposals

What is to be drawn out of the situation we have outlined?

  1. Congress history has proven the impossibility of organizing a genuine mass party of workers, peasants and radical-city petty bourgeois elements to achieve even the limited program of the democratic revolution.
  2. The native capitalist class of India – more so than its Russian counterpart – is incapable of advancing even on the first stages of the democratic revolution, except under the most violent mass pressure – in which case its weight as an independent class would fall close to zero.
  3. The leadership of India’s revolutionary nationalism is and remains in the hands of the proletariat; particularly its newly-born war layers. Only the proletariat, allied with the peasant mass, can win even the most elementary demands of the democratic revolution. The proletariat of India must prepare to come to power on the basis of the national democratic revolution which it should lead.
  4. The Indian National Congress – having exhausted the sole progressive achievement granted to it by history; namely, the posing of the question of national liberation in its most abstract form – is a bankrupt organization, in capable of any additional progress and acting only as a reactionary brake in the hands of the foreign and colonial bourgeoisie.
  5. The Marxists of India must draw the only possible conclusions of the twenty years experience – the need for a drastic reorientation outside of Congress ranks; all effort to be concentrated on (a) organization of the industrial workers into the unions; (b) organization of the poor peasants into the peasant unions; (c) regrouping of all the revolutionary forces – drawn from the numerous sources that exist – into the new revolutionary workers’ party that India is now forming.

And finally, to place the entire problem on its correct internationalist basis, the words of Trotsky are decidedly relevant. “If we take England and India as the opposite poles of capitalist types, we must state that the internationalism of the British and Indian proletariat does not at all rest on the similarity of conditions, tasks and methods, but on their inseparable interdependence. The successes of the liberation movement in India presuppose a revolutionary movement in England and the other way around.”


1. Even the great Tata Iron & Steel Works, which has had a huge war expansion and which is supposedly a “native industry,” is controlled by British banks and a British dominated board of directors. Even the agrarian question points directly to the British bankers, who hold the great landlords and producers of raw materials in their clutches.

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