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Henry Judd

Opportunism on India

(September 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 8, September 1942, pp. 242–245.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the August issue of the Fourth International, the editor, Felix Morrow, had the bald statement that there is a deep gulf between his organization and the Workers Party on the question of India. At the time, we ignored this statement as a typical Morrow “polemical exaggeration” and stupidity, typical of the sort of thing that has earned that gentleman his notoriety. We beg to acknowledge our error; Morrow was correct! There is a gulf between our position on India and his. For, as we shall prove in this article, his position and that of the Cannon group represents a whitewashing and support of the Indian colonial bourgeoisie, in a manner clearly reminiscent of the Stalinist collaboration with the Chinese Kuomintang (1925–27).

The Cannonite theoreticians, even on questions of elementary fact, do not know what they are talking about (except when they plagiarize unashamedly from the work of others). To give a few illustrations:

  1. The Fourth International completely underestimates the numerical strength and importance of the Indian proletariat, particularly its growth since the war. It bases itself upon old, now-antiquated statistics;
  2. on the Hindu-Moslem question a virtual silence is maintained, except for some hackneyed quotations from ancient sources; apparently, either they know nothing about the matter, or they think it plays no role in the Indian events. Either cause is based upon ignorance;
  3. the Congress Socialist Party is spoken of as a leading force among revolutionary circles in India today, an important factor in the militancy of the revolutionary proletariat. But any acquaintance with the decline and disintegration of this petty-bourgeois party (especially since the war, when the Stalinists and the Gandhi-ists tore it to bits) makes such a statement ludicrous. This party, if it still exists, is an empty shell of its former bloated self, incapable of any rôle! Its best elements have long since joined with the Bolshevik-Leninists of India;
  4. the peasant organization mentioned in the various articles – the All-India Kisan Sabha (Peasants’ Union) – is not what, by implication, the unacquainted reader is led to believe it is. The Sabha, limited to the provinces of Bihar and Orissa, is an organization of small tenant and landowning peasants. It is not a union of agricultural laborers or poor peasants who are forced to work for others at least part of the year. If the editor had taken the trouble to read the thesis of the Indian Bolshevik-Leninists with care, he would have noted how these comrades, while recognizing the importance and militancy of the Sabha, emphasize the fundamental task – the need for the independent organization of the farm laborers and poor peasantry;
  5. the entire issue ignores the history of the Congress during the past three years (that is, since the war began), fails to link up today’s events with this history and thus gives a breathless, excited character to its newly-discovered “revolutionary crisis in India.” Or, perhaps, this ignoring of the Congress’ rôle during the past three years is more closely related to our main point – the whitewashing and opportunist glorification of the Indian colonial bourgeoisie.

Position of Indian Bolshevik-Leninists

With what solicitude the Fourth International writes of the Congress! That notorious red-baiter and right-winger, Abdul Kalam Azad, is delicately referred to as “Maulana Azad, the Moslem scholar and president of the Congress”! How the Congress is painted up, in a stupid and shameless manner! “A hundred times it has been established that the Congress has infinitely more following among the Untouchables than the British agents who parade as their leaders ...” Certainly Dr. Ambedkar is a British agent with no following among the Untouchables, but anyone acquainted with the Congress today knows that it, too, has no base among this most depressed section of India’s people because of its long betrayal of their interests. “But great masses ... arose under the formal leadership of the Congress.” “But at the given moment the people of India are fighting under the banner of the Congress.”

Contrast this approach to the Congress, the party of the Indian colonial bourgeoisie – with the scientific analysis rendered by the Indian Bolshevik-Leninists.

Since 1934 Gandhi and the leaders of the National Congress have had as their chief aim that of preventing the renewal of a mass struggle against imperialism ... (The New International, April 1942)


The main instrument whereby the Indian bourgeoisie seeks to maintain control over the national movement is the Indian National Congress, the classic party of the Indian capitalist class, seeking as it does the support of the petty bourgeois and if possible of the workers, for their own aims (Ibid.)


... the direction of its policy remains exclusively in the hands of the bourgeoisie, as also the control of the party organization, as was dramatically proved at Tripuri and after. The Indian National Congress in its social composition, its organization and above all in its political leadership, can be compared to the Kuomintang, which led the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 to its betrayal and defeat.

The characterization of the Indian National Congress as a multi-class party, as the “National United Front” or as “a platform rather than a party” is a flagrant deception calculated to hand over to the bourgeois in advance the leadership of the coming struggle, and so make its betrayal and defeat a foregone conclusion. (Ibid.)

Then I am correct, Felix Morrow will say. You do not support the Indian nationalist movement because it is led by the Congress. Ignoring for the moment the question of who is leading the present movement, our answer is that this is a false and lying accusation. The question is not one of support or non-support to the movement. The Workers Party stands unequivocably behind the nationalist masses in their struggle with imperialism. The basic difference between us and Morrow is over our attitude toward the Congress bourgeois leadership and its r6le in the Indian revolution. Our attitude can be no better expressed than in the words of the Indian revolutionists we have quoted. But, it goes without saying, in so far as the Congress conducts a struggle (more accurately, is forced on the road of struggle by the people) we give our critical support to such actions.

Morrow, forgetting Trotsky’s major point in the introduction to his book. The Permanent Revolution, that the essence of revolutionary strategy and tactics lies in grasping the specific features and peculiarities that are brought about by the law of uneven development, tries to place India and China in precisely the same category. Herein lies the major mistake in his analysis. The question of why we support India’s struggle and why we refuse to support China’s is answered in the article of Comrade Shachtman appearing in this issue. What we are concerned with here is pointing out the differences between the Indian and Chinese bourgeoisies. How can one compare the two? One holds state power (“Free China”); the other is lodged in jail! One is a class with some strength, maturity, political and social experience; the other is historically feeble and inept, incapable even of taking power. One organized and led nationalist armies in bloody wars against imperialism, gaining its semi-colonial status on the battlefield; the other proposes a philosophy of non-violence and remains more than ever in a colonial status. Of course, in a general sense, they are similar: both are victimized by world imperialism.

Why do we insist upon these specific distinctions between the Congress (party of the Indian bourgeoisie), and the Kuomintang (party of the Chinese bourgeoisie)? Because it proves that the Congress cannot even play the rôle in India that the Kuomintang did in China! Fifteen years of capitalist crisis have passed since 1927, the Indian bourgeoisie has not become any stronger or more powerful in that time. On the contrary. We ask Morrow, since he assigns such an important rôle to the Congress Party (not the proletarian revolution, to be sure, but a good sized chunk of the bourgeois revolution, at any rate): what exactly do you expect of the Congress in the present crisis? We have given our answer to that question – we expect nothing but counter-revolutionary sabotage and betrayal, at the earliest opportunity, of that struggle. What do you expect?

Attitude Toward Indian Bourgeoisie

But the Congress is leading the struggle today, isn’t it? “What about this present struggle led by the Congress – does Shachtman support it?” Morrow asks (emphasis in original). We are ready to grant that in a “formal” sense the Congress resolution was the event that precipitated the present fight. But we are concerned with the content of the struggle, not its form. The answer to Morrow’s question is not a simple yes or no. Rather, it is yes and no! Yes, the Congress bourgeoisie is “leading the struggle” so as to divert it from revolutionary channels and behead it at the earliest opportunity; no, the Congress is not “leading the struggle” – the real struggle of the workers and peasants dying under British fire, the struggle of the masses seeking to find the road to power. How beautifully our point is symbolized by the presence of Gandhi (the spokesman of the bourgeoisie) in “jail” in the summer palace of Aga Khan! The masses struggle in the streets, in the villages. Its “leaders” are in jail, waiting for the imperialist master to make the first overtures for truce and compromise. It is the duty of a Marxist to lay bare the anti-revolutionary, compromising rfile of the Congress leadership, not to get sloppy over its presence in “jail.” The Indian bourgeoisie has plenty of defenders – that is, compromisers – among the liberals.

Morrow quotes from a statement of the Workers Party issued at the start of the struggle. “We do not know whether Gandhi, Nehru and Azad intend to go through with their call to mass struggle.” Yes, Morrow, we do not have your confidence in the Indian bourgeoisie! This statement was written on the eve of the struggle, before it began, when the Congress leaders were desperately appealing to everyone under the sun in an effort to arrange a last minute compromise. The struggle was forced upon the Congress (that is, its formal endorsement of the struggle) by the people of India, fed up with three years of treachery and Gandhi-ist inaction. Do not cover yourself up by saying: “We ... were and remain certain that the Congress leadership will not go through with the struggle to the end.” We are not talking about the end – we are talking about India today. Sir Stafford Cripps has pointed out in Parliament that “the Congress working committee had passed a resolution accepting the proposal, but Mr. Gandhi intervened and that resolution was subsequently reversed.” The working committee had accepted the sell-out, but Gandhi (who knows the temper of the people much better than Azad, Nehru and the other working committee members) demanded a higher price! There is Morrow’s “Congress leadership” of the “concrete struggle!”

And what role is the Congress leadership playing today, in the midst of battle? All reporters have remarked on the disappearance of the professional congressmen from the scene; the emergence of new, young and militant working-class and student elements! In this elemental and chaotic rebellion of great masses the formal Congress leadership has been swept aside (that is, by everyone but Morrow) and replaced by the first semblances of a new, revolutionary leadership in the earliest pangs and difficulties of its formation. There is, in a sense, a dual power within the nationalist movement itself – the old, decrepit and conservative leadership (wringing its hands and shedding tears at what is transpiring) and this new, yet-to-be leadership emerging from the people. We do not urge that the leadership should be granted formalistically to the old leadership. On the contrary, the fate of the Indian revolution depends upon the seizure of hegemony by the Indian workers and peasants, by new leadership. We are sure that the Congress leaders will be pleased with Morrow’s protests at our failure to recognize and grant their formal leadership!

We now come to our final point. We are charged with nothing less than “an irresponsibility which one can characterize only as criminal.” This charge is launched against us for having raised the question of the Indian bourgeoisie going over to the Japanese. Let us quote the entire section of the article referred to (The New International, August 1942):

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 lightweight 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.

For the Revolutionary Masses

The interpretation that Morrow places upon this section is that we accuse the Congress leadership of being Japanese-Axis agents! This section is supposed to give a “theoretical” basis to our “criminal slander”! As a matter of fact, says Morrow, this goes even further than the social-democratic New Leader and could well be utilized by an enterprising British agent.

The disputed section is an historical and social analysis of a given class, the Indian capitalist class. It seeks to explain what motivates the current actions, its rôle in India and the war, its possibilities and its limitations. If Morrow disagrees with our statement that “this native bourgeoisie is unable and unprepared to lake over power,” let him say so. If this pretentious windbag disagrees with our contention that the Indian bourgeoisie is unable to rule in its own name, but must seek a senior partner upon whom to lean for support, let him say so. Let him not answer a concrete historic analysis with a cheap effort at an amalgam between us and British imperialism. If he believes there is no tendency among the Indian bourgeoisie of a pro-Japanese character (he says: “... there is not the slightest sign that the Congress leadership is seeking a ‘deal’ or tacit understanding with Japan”), then he grants the Indian bourgeoisie, by implication, the power and ability to seize and hold power in its own name. Is this really true? Suppose that Japan should successfully, or with partial success, invade India? Can it for a moment be doubted that the Indian capitalist and landlord class, in the manner of the Burmese bourgeoisie, would make its peace with the new foreign masters? Whence comes this intransigence and strength with which Morrow so strangely endows the colonial bourgeoisie?

For our part, while we stand unequivocally behind the revolutionary masses of India in their struggle, we refuse for an instant to whitewash the bourgeois leadership, to spread illusions about its historic rôle or its combativity. The Socialist Workers Party, on this question as well as others, moves further along the opportunist road. Morrow’s painting up of the Indian bourgeoisie is but one aspect of the ideological capitulation of his party to one of the warring imperialist camps, to Stalinism. First we have support to Russia in the war, then support to China in the Allied imperialist camp, and now a glorification of the Indian colonial bourgeoisie I We, on the other hand, stand fundamentally with Trotsky, who propounded the revolutionary road for backward, colonial countries as “an alliance of the proletariat and peasantry in struggle against the liberal bourgeoisie.” The situation in India has always been the opposite. We have had an alliance of the worker and peasant with the liberal bourgeoisie, under the hegemony of the latter. Now that the Indian workers and peasants are, for the first time in their history, challenging the liberal bourgeoisie and seeking to break the hold of the Congress, it is criminal to urge them to bow down in respect before the formal authority of their bourgeoisie. Let that task be performed by those suited to it.

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