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Notes of the Month

The Revolt in India

(August 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 7, August 1942, pp. 195–197.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Whatever may be the outcome of the civil disobedience and nationalist struggles in India – whether reactionary British imperialism succeeds in its effort to crush the movement by sheer brute force, or whether the crisis deepens and, extending itself to larger layers of the population (the proletarian and peasant masses), begins to assume the characteristics of a social revolution and a struggle for political power – whatever may be the outcome of the struggle, it is clear that this movement represents the first great revolutionary upheaval during the course of the Second World War.

Lenin, writing in 1916 of the Irish Easter Rebellion, vigorously aligned himself with this national insurrection against British imperialism and hailed the event as the first break in the imperialist slaughter, the first progressive act of the people directed against world imperialism. In precisely the same sense, revolutionary Marxists cannot but hail the first phase of the Indian Revolution as a major break in the development of the Second World War and a blow at the body of capitalist-imperialism. The fact that these events are occurring in the classic land of imperialism – the vast colonial sub-continent of India, with its 400,000,000 persons living under the backward régime of foreign imperialism, combined with Asiatic feudalism – only underscores one of the major differences between this and the First World War. Namely, that in this war the rôle of the colonies and the colonial peoples, as stimulants of the socialist revolution, is infinitely greater and more impressive than the last time. The repercussions of the Indian events among the colonial peoples in China, Africa, South America, etc., will further emphasize this point.

Nature of the Indian Events

What is occurring in India today? We are witnessing the latest stage in the unrolling of India’s nationalist and revolutionary movement – a movement that has been progressing, in fits and spurts, since the Russian Revolution of 1917. Or, to state it more exactly, the first, most elementary and initial stages of the bourgeois democratic phase of the Indian Revolution have begun. The first confused and chaotic steps of the revolution, marred by a strong element of spontaneity and leaderlessness, are nevertheless significant and stamp the character and quality of the future movement. In this sense, the first events in India are vastly promising and hopeful.

In the first place, the Indian proletariat, a proletariat which has grown rapidly in size, weight in the national economy and experience since the last civil disobedience movement of 1931-33, has come rapidly to the fore and has already played a leading rôle in the strikes that have rocked Bombay, Ahmedabad, Allahabad, Poona and all the leading industrial centers of the nation. The workers, side by side with the radical students and left petty bourgeoisie, have taken the movement out of the hands of the conservative bourgeois nationalist leadership (Gandhi-Nehru-Azad) for the time being at least, and are themselves carrying the torch of the national struggle.

In the second place, the spontaneity and dramatic character of the movement, as well as its All-India character, extending from one end of the country to the other, have revealed the depths of national anti-imperialist feeling, as well as a complete distrust and disgust with the cowardly vacillations of the bourgeois Congress leadership. The prompt and vigorous response of the masses in the key centers has shown their desire to struggle for independence now, no matter what the price. We are dealing here with a movement that has sunk the deepest possible roots and that intimately affects every worker and poor peasant in the country’s 400,000,000 population.

And in the third place, this movement has begun, in the sense of proletarian, mass combativity, where all the others left off. Previously (1921, 1931, etc.) the Congress Party has embarked cautiously, step by step, on each new campaign. Anxious not to arouse the revolutionary sentiments of the masses, the Congress sought its base of operations among the merchants, clerks, students, professionals in the cities, and the small, land-holding farmers (kisans) in the rural areas. The working and peasant masses were sucked into the movement, so to speak, only as a final threat before the inevitable compromise and capitulation on the part of Congress to the British imperialists.

Workers in Lead

But today, in the arena of world capitalist crisis where the rôle of the colonial bourgeoisie becomes feebler and counter-revolutionary virtually from the start of the struggle, it is the workers and poor peasants who fight the battles virtually from the start! What a devastating answer to those critics and renegades from Marxism who deny the revolutionary capacities and leadership qualities of the working class! The British masters recognize this difference. This is why they precipitate such bloody clashes, why they seek to uproot and wipe out the movement at its inception, no matter how. If the movement continues, grows and takes more solid organizational form, the imperialists realize they will face tens of millions of militant, frenzied workers and peasants who will stop at nothing to gain their revolutionary independence. In a word, this movement has begun on a much higher and more advanced stage of the class struggle. The Indian proletariat is not merely challenging the foreign bourgeoisie: it is challenging its own native bourgeoisie for hegemony over the bourgeois democratic revolution! This is, in essence, the putting into practice of the theory of the permanent revolution. Only this can account for the particularly violent and bloody aspects of this struggle from the start.

But it would be radically wrong to ignore and fail to analyze two great hindrances that lie in the revolutionary path to a workers’ and peasants’ India. We have in mind inner hindrances, rather than the obvious obstacles of British imperialist rule and authority, and the hovering threat of invasion by Japanese imperialism. Nevertheless, the successful surmounting of these outer obstacles depends upon the ability of the Indian masses to defeat these two enemies that stand in its path: (1) The colonial native capitalist class; (2) the Stalinists. These two forces, particularly the former, represent the gravest threat to the movement and must be openly fought.

The Opposition of the native bourgeoisie (politically centered around the right-wing of the Congress) has already taken an overt form. This Opposition consists of fear and terror regarding the violent and drastic nature of the struggle, and the leading participation of the masses. The New York Times reports the conspicuous absence of the traditional, middle aged, white-capped Gandhists from the demonstrating crowds. Merchants are reported to be re-opening their shops. The Associated Press reports: “Indian reporters close to the All-India Congress said its members, for the most part, still were standing apart from the rioting and that many were concerned over the bloody turn ...” (August 13). Bearing in mind that the composition of the Congress is overwhelmingly petty-bourgeois in character (small merchants, clerks, students, Professionals, etc.) this report indirectly reflects the character of the present movement.

Bourgeois Pro-Japan?

Yet, what was it that forced the hand of the Congress (the Indian bourgeoisie) and made it take steps that – despite its desire – precipitated the violent clashes? In our opinion, the causes are two: (1) The threat of Japanese invasion accompanied by a growing pro-Japanese sentiment among the population; (2) the insistence and unquenchable demand of the people that a national struggle should be launched immediately. It became necessary for Gandhi, political leader of the Indian bourgeoisie, to act or else be swept aside by other elements. In this respect the Mahatma is infinitely more shrewd and far-sighted than the pitiful and cowardly Nehru!

The successes of Japanese imperialism have had an impressive effect upon the Indian capitalist class. Coupled with the defeats and astounding weaknesses of the British, the native bourgeoisie (or an influential section of it, even if we exclude those merchants and industrialists who are benefiting by large British war Orders) has lost confidence in the ruling imperialist power. It sees the British Empire staggering and tottering under endless blows. Yet – being an abortive product of capitalism in its permanent decline – this native bourgeoisie is unable and unprepared to take over power. It is too small, too weak, too divided, too undernourished – a light-weight contender in the heavyweight struggle for power in India.

But it does not wish to tie its fate to that of a doomed, bankrupt imperialist power – the British Empire. Therefore, beyond a doubt, the Indian bourgeoisie is casting about for a new master to which it may subordinate itself; a new power before which it may lay its claim for junior partnership in the exploitation of the country. Obviously, that new power is the greatly expanded Japanese Empire! It is impossible to say whether a “deal” or tacit understanding has been reached with Japanese imperialism, but it is clear that doubly-parasitic Indian capitalism is seriously pondering the question. At the same time, the Congress bourgeois leadership has done everything in its power to Sabotage and disorganize the struggle against imperialism:

(1) It conducted aimless, futile negotiations with the renegade socialist, Sir Starford Cripps. The Cripps mission – now clearly seen as a gigantic hoax and stage-play perpetrated by Churchill – succeeded in out-maneuvering the Congress leadership before world opinion and spreading about the idea that the British really had offered something, which a divided India had rejected. “In the broader sense, Sir Stafford Cripps has had success. He has fixed the eyes of the world upon the realities of the Indian problem. He has enlightened the American people, who in the past have been woefully misled as to British policy ...” (Great Britain and the East) Such are the cynical claims of an English imperialist journal.

Yet, as Congress President Azad stated in his letter to Cripps on April 11: “It seems that there has been a progressive deterioration in the British government’s attitude as our negotiations proceeded. What we were told in our very first talk with you is now denied or explained away. You told me then that there would be a national government which would function as a cabinet ... The whole of this picture which you (at the first talk) sketched before us has now been completely shattered ...” A disappointed bourgeois, prepared to sell himself, but let down by the prospective purchaser at the last minute! It is no surprise that in the months that passed between the collapse of the Cripps mission and the outbreak of the present struggle, the Congress took not a step toward (a) organizationally preparing the masses; (b) working out a clear political and social program around which to build the struggle. Gandhi, Nehru, Azad and their conservative cohorts bear the responsibility for this.

(2) Up to the very last moment, every possible measure, gesture and step was taken to arrive at an agreement. The original resolution of Gandhi (written by him on July 15) calling for the national struggle was militant and aggressive in tone. It spoke of “our duty to wipe out our unemployment, to bridge the gulf between the rich and the poor, to banish communal strife, to excise the demon of untouchability ...” It spoke of a “workers’ and peasants’ republic.” It demanded that the British government remove its troops, as well as the unwanted American troops. “It is a crying shame to bring foreign troops in, in spite of India’s inexhaustible manpower, and it is proof of the immorality that British imperialism is.”

But by the time that this resolution had reached the final stage and was adopted by the All-India Congress Committee (the day before the arrest of Gandhi and the leadership of the Congress), it had been watered down beyond recognition. Instead, feeble and watery protests; requests to serve the imperialist master (“I am England’s best friend” – Gandhi); urgent pleading for last minute intervention from Roosevelt, Chiang Kai-shek and even (!) Ambassador Maisky! Frightened by the perspective and specter of a violent struggle, the Congress bourgeoisie recoiled in terror and sank back to a position of utter willingness to serve the foreign exploiter – if only for a few crumbs. But the workers spoke a different language! The native bourgeoisie can offer the people nothing: neither leadership, nor program, nor organization, nor hope for the future other than coming under the domination of another, equally perfidious imperialist power.

We have mentioned above another dangerous obstacle in the path of the Indian people – the Communist Party of India (the Stalinists). Recently legalized by the Viceroy (what a coincidence!) these agents of the Russian regime are conducting an openly counter-revolutionary campaign among the workers and within the Congress. “We Indian Communists are trying our hardest to convince our fellow patriots that the course of action suggested by the Congress leadership does not lead to our freedom, but cuts our nation away from freedom’s battle, divides the progressive forces in Britain and India and only helps strengthen the obstinacy of the imperialists ...” (Statement of the Indian Communist Party, Bombay.) While hundreds of their “fellow patriots” die under British gunfire, the Stalinists urge them to drop the struggle, accept the British offer and place themselves at the Service of the United Nations. The fact that the students – who until recently were mainly influenced by the All-India Students Federation (a Stalinist-controlled movement) – are playing such a leading rôle in the movement will indicate the response given to these open agents of imperialism. Yet the Stalinists still represent a great threat to the masses. They will attempt to sow confusion from within, particularly among the trade union workers in the great industrial centers of Bombay, Cawnpore, Nagpur, Calcutta, etc. Aided by the British authorities, who will give them all the publicity and assistance they could possibly need, they will try to undermine the militancy of the workers and peasants in a hundred foul and insidious ways.

A gallery of notables, including Pearl Buck, Dorothy Thompson, Waller Lippmann and Raymond Clapper, have unhesitatingly spoken the mind of the American tribe of liberals on the “Indian Question.” Without exception they have “deplored” and “regretted” the violent effort of British imperialism to crush this progressive nationalist movement; all have spoken of the necessity to do this. Pearl Buck – that substantial and sincere friend of all the darker races – says that “Both England and India say they are agreed on freedom. The disagreement apparently is on timing and administration during the war.” The English terror is a misunderstanding on timing! Dorothy Thompson, the female schizophreniac of the New York Post, writes that “Mr. Gandhi had the choice of being a rebel or a revolutionary. He has chosen to be a rebel.” Lest this confuse the reader, by being a “revolutionary” Miss Thompson means that Gandhi should forego India’s cause and support the United Nations. Walter Lippmann has repeated at length the familiar British propagandist arguments about Indian disunity, Hindu-Moslem discord, etc. All, all have – each in his particular manner – supported the whitewashing editorial policy of the bourgeois press.

But it took the Social-Democratic New Leader to reach a new low in social-patriotic treachery and insolence. Virtually an entire issue of the Rand School’s rag was devoted to a vulgar slandering of the Indian people and its nationalist leadership. Where even the bourgeois press hesitated before the extreme slander of labeling Gandhi and his group as “Japanese-Axis agents,” the decrepit old nags of the New Leader did not hesitate! Where the British authorities only went so far as to say that the Congress Party represents only a minority of the nation, the Social-Democrats did not flinch from publishing an article that attempted to “prove” that the Congress exploits the Indian masses, rather than the British raj! Let it never be said that Algernon Lee did not walk in where imperialists fear to tread! In this policy, of course, the American Social-Democrats are simply following the line of their associates in the British Labor Party – those notorious gentlemen who sit conspicuously with Churchill and applaud his every action and crime.

In the United States, let it be recorded for the future, only two working-class political organizations have come out unqualifiedly in support of the Indian people and their just demands. The Workers Party and the Socialist Workers Party have, in statements to the American proletariat, condemned the imperialist terror and stood by the side of India’s masses. In taking this elementary step of solidarity, the tradition of revolutionary internationalism and support to workers in all lands has been kept alive. But more than this is involved. In the first place, there are thousands of American troops in India – troops whose presence is greatly suspect to the Indian people. Thus, in a direct sense, the “Indian Question” is also an American question.

American imperialism for its own purposes is remaining apart from the issues, but this is only to keep its skirts clean enough to lend plausibility to an attempt to arbitrate the problem at a future date and in its own special interests. Such arbitration as may be attempted can have only one objective in mind – to keep the Indian people in bondage under a high-sounding but deceptive formula. (“We guarantee and underwrite your freedom after the war is over.”) America is involved in the question; America will become more deeply involved because this is a total and global war in which every major development cannot but directly and immediately influence all the component parts that make up the war.

Main Struggle Yet to Come

We cannot emphasize too strongly the fact that the major struggles on the revolutionary road are yet to come in India. The August days are the prelude to the broader and more sweeping nationalist and class battles that will shake this sub-continent to its foundations. The movement cannot be killed; it can only be momentarily halted or pushed back a slight distance. The social forces at work, the effect of the war, the national aspirations of 400,000,000 people cannot be counter-acted by the bayonets and bullets of a mere handful of white imperialist soldiers, aided by auxiliary mercenary troops. Even the isolated and sealed “Indian Army” will split wide open and will take sides as the inevitable movement rolls on.

The great task in India is fundamentally the same task that faces the proletariat in every country. That is, the creation of a mass revolutionary party to lead the people. A revolutionary party – the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India – already exists, but it does not yet influence broad masses of workers and peasants. Yet this party was formed in India during the course of the war, under the most difficult circumstances of British repression and illegality. The very fact that it could organize itself, pull itself together out of the many confused and contradictory Marxist elements that lie scattered all over the country and then, in a brilliant analytical and programmatic thesis (see The New International, MarchApril 1942) clearly present the tasks of the Indian Revolution – this is a sign of growing maturity in the Indian proletariat. Now comes the enormously difficult task of finding a way to the workers and peasants, based upon the powerful ideas of the permanent revolution and the struggle for the seizure of political power. Nobody can say whether the Bolshevik-Leninists of India will succeed; everybody who knows these people understands that they will not flinch for a moment, that they will prove resourceful and courageous under fire. This must not be another Spain, where the proletariat failed. The Indian revolutionists, now in the midst of battle, will see to that.

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