From New International, Vol.14 No.1, January 1948, pp.10-13.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The division imposed upon the subcontinent of India, into the Dominion of Pakistan and the Dominion of India, has occurred under the most disastrous and tragic circumstances imaginable. If recent experience in the colonial world has again indicated the incapacity of the national bourgeoisie to successfully lead the nation to national independence (Indo-China, Indonesia, etc.), the experience in India has not only underscored this fact again, but also the additional fact that this same bourgeoisie can only lead the nation from one disaster toward the menace of an even greater disaster.
Creations of only a few months, the Dominions of Pakistan and of India are already squared off against each other as though the perspective of an ultimate, full-scale war between them is to be understood, taken for granted and prepared for!
Such a war is not possible today, nor probably for many years to come. Both territories are too chaotic, disorganized and lacking in stability to engage in such madness at the moment. Yet this is clearly the trend, as openly predicted by their respective leaders, including the eminent philosopher of nonviolence, Mahatma Gandhi! But neither one has the army, the administrative or technical cadres, or the machine necessary for war. Yet it is clear that both governments, young and immature as they are, are pointed in that direction, will begin (indeed already have begun) to prepare for this eventuality, and — assuming they remain in power, consolidate and establish themselves — will one day plunge the whole land into its greatest catastrophe, war between Pakistan and India, over continental control.
If we speak of the necessity of an orientation toward reunification of India, it is without any illusions. The terrible damage already inflicted on the cause of a united India makes it impossible to accomplish such a task except over a long period of time and with the utmost difficulty. The division of India today is a fact that must be taken as a new departure point. We must seek to understand why the division took place as it did, the causes of the disastrous manner in which it was carried out, and then pose the question of whether it can be healed, and how.
It is apparent that neither dominion is capable of healing the rupture but, given their troubled and dynamic internal social systems, will clash again and again. If today’s struggles over those princely states which have not yet made their choice between the dominions (Janagadh, Kashmir and Hyderabad) will be settled in one or another way by force of circumstances, we should only view such settlements as temporary in character and in no way harmonizing the antagonism between the two power groups. The same attitude must be maintained toward the important agreements and settlements of serious financial matters reached in December 1947 by the two states. The rulers of Pakistan, in a far inferior economic and industrial position, will not rest with their defeat in the Kashmir adventure; nor have the Hindu capitalist rulers of India become reconciled to their losses in the Pakistan territories.
What were the factors leading to the division of the continent, a division long opposed by the Indian nationalist movement?
We cannot here trace the entire history. Fundamentally, it resulted from the historic incapacity of the Indian bourgeoisie, organized .in its Congress Party, to lead the oppressed nation as a whole in the fight for national independence. Partition was thus the end result of a long period of struggle and negotiation between three forces — British imperialism, the Congress Party and the reactionary Moslem League of the feudalists. Throughout the torturous negotiations of partition’s final phase, lasting two years, imperialism remained the dominant element in the situation, despite the fact that its own internal weaknesses forced it to twist and yield and bend.
The final solution reached, while not the most satisfactory, was nevertheless highly acceptable to imperialism since it signified the continuation, even though in a highly modified form, of Britain’s power over the bulk of India’s economic life.
The direct rule of British imperialism is ending. The job of governing the country has been handed over to the Indian bourgeoisie, with whom the British imperialists have entered into a partnership... Despite a certain improvement in the relative position
of Indian capital, the volume of British capital investment in India has undergone no significant change, while the grip of imperialist capital over the exchange banks, insurance companies and in shipping and key positions in industry continues ... The direct rule of British imperialism, we declare therefore, is being replaced by indirect rule.
This declaration of the Indian Trotskyist party on the eve of the August 15, 1947, day of “independence” is essentially correct.
But more was involved than the creation of this junior partnership of the Hindu capitalist class with imperialism. Unable to force an acceptance of its original “Cripps proposal,” under whose terms a unified India would have emerged with the junior partnership embracing the Moslem League as well as the Congress, imperialism sought a solution that would not only leave India in as weak a condition as possible, but with a chronic, long-lasting communal division that would sap the potential unified strength of the country and assist the British strategy of remaining on and intervening at important moments in the life of the two dominions. Thanks to the Congress and to the Moslem League, equally, this strategy has succeeded.
Finally, it would be blindness itself not to recognize the mass forces and pressures at work that made it possible for the Moslem League to take the adamant stand that it did. The truth is that over a period of years the Moslem masses became increasingly (and justifiably) concerned over their possible future under a Congress regime. Since no reassuring force rose among the Hindu masses to calm their fears, the Moslem League leaders were not only able to create a mass movement out of the communal problem but were also able to present themselves as the sole active mass force present at the conference table. The partition of India did not take place merely as a cold, worked-out deal between the three forces we have mentioned. The atmosphere was ready for the violent and tragic explosion that occurred.
In a previous article in The New International (December 1947), we have attempted to outline the character of the Hindu-Moslem conflict and relate it to the now increasingly familiar world tendency of the regrowth of narrow nationalist and communalist movements within the confines of the more backward territories. Moslem communalism, called into existence first by British imperialism, became a force which could not be brushed aside and which channelized the strength and desires of tens of millions of India’s most backward and downtrodden community. At the conference table of partition it had to be accounted for.
The actual partition took place suddenly, abruptly and brutally. Only the top leadership of Congress, imperialism and the Moslem League knew what was coming. In this sense, even though it may be argued that India’s division was “agreed” to and segments of the nation were consulted, we maintain that it was a reactionary and imposed division, so far as the masses were concerned.
Nehru for the Congress, Jinnah for the Moslem League, and Lord Mountbatten for imperialism were thus the authors of the great disaster which followed, particularly in the province of Punjab. The frustrated impulses of the two peoples, held back by their leadership from a joint struggle against imperialism, ran into communal lines and burst out in a frenzy of communal warfare. Two nations, Hindu and Moslem, were born amid the barbaric death of hundreds of thousands, the forced migration of millions and the destruction of enormous amounts of property.
By November 1947, it was estimated that eight million persons had been switched or displaced in the Punjab and elsewhere. Many others will migrate, at a slower pace, and the tendency will be for both dominions to become strictly one community or the other. This was the greatest mass migration of world history, whipped up by a fantastic outburst of communal hysteria. Over four million Hindus and Sikhs fled Pakistan, and about the same number fled the Indian Dominion. No one has accurately estimated the number of deaths, but it was at least 250,000 people. The Sikh community of approximately five million, residing in the Punjab, had the highest percentage of displacement and losses. One and a half million fled Pakistan, and 600,000 were left without any land or property after the debacle.
If fratricidal communal strife appears outwardly as the explosion of primitive emotions and fanatic passions, a closer examination will indicate this to be untrue. A backward, semi-feudal milieu, with a great mass of illiterate and down-trodden peasants such as India provides, is not even necessary for such outbursts, as the example of Nazi Germany and the Jewish community indicates. What is essential is the perversion of genuine and legitimate social grievances into paths desired by reactionary segments of, the population, on both sides. The clearest example of this is the story of the Punjab, where the major portion of the catastrophe took place.
The province of the Punjab was a distinct section of India, with a large population of Hindus, Moslems and Sikhs, all speaking a common language (Punjabi), and comparatively well unified culturally and historically. The Sikhs, long employed by the British as the nucleus of their armed forces in India, had developed into a privileged military caste, often and justly compared with the Cossacks of the Czar. This community occupied roughly the center of the Punjab. Furthermore,
“... the border regions of both Eastern and Western Punjab were occupied by the land-hungry peasantry. The persistent propaganda of the Moslem League promised the land to the Moslem peasantry who were told that once Pakistan was established, all land would belong to the Moslems.” (M. Naidu, The Militant, October 27, 1947)
Likewise, in the Moslem sections of the Punjab, the landlords and money lenders were mainly Hindus. Class and communal struggles overlapped and were confused.
The document dividing the Punjab was a British-drawn document. It was deliberately conceived to antagonize the Moslems, who constituted 57 per cent of the Punjab, and the four and a half million Sikh community. On either side of the announced border between India and Pakistan four million minority peoples found themselves. On one side was a large Moslem community, in conflict with their Hindu landlords, industrialists and capitalists, bankers and business men, money lenders and merchants. On the other side were masses of Hindu peasants, living under Moslem landlordism. In-between was the rich and powerful community of the bearded Sikhs. And the British were permitted to handle this tense problem and make the final decision!
Suddenly, without warning, the Punjab was split wide open, with the demarcation line between India and Pakistan running down through the rich communal lands of the Sikhs. Reactionary, communalist elements on both sides had been agitating the land-hungry peasants that partition would be the signal for the expropriation of opposing communities and seizure of their lands and property. Once such action had begun it swiftly became the bloody chain reaction familiar to us. Poverty, land-hunger, feudalism, religious fanaticism, narrow communalism, incapable of being held in check by a nonexistent revolutionary leadership, ran rampant. The real criminals in the situation are the same three forces that had signed this partition conceived in secrecy — British imperialism, Hindu capitalism and Moslem feudalism. That landlords, capitalists and feudalists were murdered in the struggle, and their properties destroyed, again illustrates the meaning of Marx’s remark about the continuation of our social order leading to the “common ruin” of all classes.
Thus the division of the sub-continent took place. There now exists Pakistan and India, two tremendous nations busily attempting to consolidate their power and erect firm state foundations. How, from an economic standpoint, do they compare with each other? We give a brief summary of both nations’ outstanding characteristics, without detail.
The Dominion of India is, by far, the more advanced economically and industrially. With a population over four times that of Pakistan, India possesses most of the coal and iron mines, textile and jute mills and steel mills, as well as the major harbors of the sub-continent (Bombay, Madras, Calcutta). India has the bulk of industrial production and skilled labor, particularly since most of the skilled Hindu workers who were living in Pakistan areas have now fled, along with the flight of Hindu capital from that unhappy dominion. India’s main difficulty, economically speaking, is a shortage in food production.
Pakistan is primarily an agricultural area — backward at that — with very little actual industry. Larger than Greater Germany, it has a population of seventy million, of whom about sixty million are Moslems. It is the most backward region, industrially, of the sub-continent. Pakistan has no known iron or coal, and Karachi is its only important harbor. The country’s major asset is its large agricultural production, including 85 per cent of all the world’s jute supply (which must be processed in Indial). There is an agricultural surplus of wheat and rice, cotton, wool and tea. There is little capital for development, and the people are largely illiterate — four per cent can read as compared with twelve per cent in India. Its skilled proletariat is small and rudimentary, with most of the population consisting of land-hungry peasants.
The Indian Dominion thus is the center of capitalism, while Pakistan is the home of the strongest semi-feudalism and landlordism. This is the heart of the economic struggle between the dominions, with Hindu capital seeking to rule and exploit the sub-continent as a whole, and Moslem landlordism resisting and demanding its share in such an expansionist program.
Given its obvious weaknesses and disadvantages as against the Indian Dominion, the future of Pakistan as a long-lasting, viable state is doubtful indeed. The desire to find a more stable base is unquestionably one of the reasons why the Pakistan rulers have begun various expansionist adventures, such as the invasion of Kashmir. Writing in New Spark (August 30, 1947), Indra Sen has described some of the internal political problems of Pakistan, all calculated to further upset the struggling young state.
He points out that Pakistan itself is composed of various minorities, divided along national lines — the Pathans, the Punjabis, the Baluchis, the Sindhis and the Bengalis are all separate peoples within the body of the Moslem state. There is a movement among the Pathans (in the northern frontier area) for separation from Pakistan; Baluchistan has affiliated with Pakistan only as an autonomous province with its own administration; there is a trend among the Moslems in Bengal to join forces with the Hindus in their own region and thus (since Bengal is the single most powerful unit of Pakistan) threaten to dominate the whole dominion. The Pakistan Constituent Assembly, in which the Bengalis have a clear majority, is now the center of the struggle among these disintegrating and centrifugal forces within Pakistan itself. These tendencies, however, do not signify an early falling apart of the Pakistan Dominion, which will, on the contrary, be held together precisely as the reactionary pressure of the Indian Dominion grows and tugs at it. This is a familiar story in history.
Now, viewed in its broadest aspects, the partition of the Indian sub-continent — as well as the disintegrative characteristics within each separate dominion briefly described above — is but another example of a world-wide phenomenon peculiar to capitalism in its stage of total degeneration and regression. This outstanding characteristic of our age, denied and ignored by the official Fourth International movement, has presented theoretical and tactical problems which virtually only two political movements, the IKD [German Trotskyists] and the Workers Party, have grappled with, each in its own way and with its own answer. The wartime national movement in Europe, the question of the Stalinist-occupied countries of the East of Europe, Palestine — these are some of the more familiar new headaches plaguing revolutionary socialists. India and Pakistan, mutatis mutandis, fit into the same category of revived, unexpected but nevertheless solvable national problems.
Unfortunately, the Indian Trotskyist movement (Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India), like its sister sections of the Fourth International, has distinguished itself (and continues to do so) only by the multitude of its errors in handling this matter. In our opinion, it has been consistently and thoroughly wrong from the beginning, and is still wrong. Does the BLPI believe it can grow and gain commanding influence without solving this key problem? Apparently yes, because it has never dealt with it in such detail and with such seriousness as to oblige us to conclude it even recognizes its importance. A brief resolution two years ago (now antiquated) and several articles in its press are all we have discovered.
In its December 1946 issue, The New International published an article presenting its point of view on the Pakistan, or the Hindu-Moslem problem, as well as an invitation to the Indian Trotskyists to explain their position. This was never accepted, and the proposal that the BLPI champion the right of the Moslem community to self-determination, if it so wished, was never discussed, rejected, accepted or amended by the BLPI.
Our previous criticisms of the BLPI still stand, in full. Now we must add new ones, and renew our invitation to these comrades to explain their viewpoint, or at least tell us what is wrong with ours. Faced with the accomplished partition, what does the BLPI now say? It condemns the partition (so do we); it calls for unity of Hindu and Moslem masses (so do we); it explains the deceptive nature of Moslem communalism, etc. Its proposal for the healing of the communal division is summed up by its publication, New Spark, in the following slogan: “For a single revolutionary Constituent Assembly for India and Pakistan.” Just as this slogan sums up the BLPI’s political program of today, so does it sum up everything that is wrong with that program. We shall attempt to explain why.
The strength and mass base of the reactionary, communalist Moslem League was long under-estimated by the BLPI. The BLPI was not alone in this error; many others who attempted to analyze the complex politics of India were also wrong, among them this writer. As a result, the BLPI only recognized the strength of this movement at a late stage and never developed a program which, in a positive fashion, could meet it.
The very logic of the class struggle within India, it was felt, would dissolve communalism through the revolutionary effects of national liberation, the emergence of the Indian proletariat as the leader of the nation, etc. But precisely because this “logical” development did not and has not occurred, the acuteness of the Moslem problem grew. From a purely British-created movement of reactionary feudalists and petty bourgeois the League became a mass movement, with a certain independent existence of its own. Doctrinal disputes over whether or not the Moslems constituted a “legitimate” nation became increasingly abstract — i.e., meaningless. The point was, rather, that politically speaking they acted and believed more and more as though they were determined to become a nation!
The slogan of “Hindu-Moslem working class unity,” while it remained applicable to concrete phases and actions of the class struggle, no longer sufficed as a central slogan to meet a developing political crisis. The proposal that revolutionary socialists champion and support the right of the Moslem people to self-determination, to a separate existence, if they so wished (a wish which became increasingly obvious) was rejected by the BLPI, which clung to its old position. Failing to understand that the struggle of nationalities and national minorities for self-realization within India itself is an organic pan of the general, all-nation struggle for national independence from imperialism (to which it can, if properly directed, add its strength as small rivulets feed a river), the BLPI advanced the utterly mechanical notion that only after the complete independence of India can the national problem within the country itself be resolved. That is, the BLPI proposed to put off indefinitely the working-out of a solution to what was rapidly becoming the key political issue! It still proposes this. In practice, the BLPI made a farce out of the concept of the permanent revolution, under which the working class wins and earns the leadership of the nation because it and it alone is able to solve the multitude of unsolved problems, chief among which are national and minority problems. In practice, the BLPI proposes the “pure” proletarian revolution which, after its victory, will settle all questions.
The BLPI’s present slogan of a “single revolutionary Constituent Assembly for India and Pakistan” is merely a new version of its former abstractionist slogan of Hindu-Moslem unity and, like the latter, evades the issue. To advance it today, as the chief slogan, must signify indeed that the BLPI does not even accept the partition as an accomplished fact! To think that a single Constituent Assembly (that is, broad Moslem-Hindu unity) is realizable in the near future is to display a fantastic blindness in the face of what is happening. Or, if the BLPI agrees that such a united assembly is remote, then what business does it have making this its central slogan; rather than (at best) a propagandistic or educational one? This slogan is meaningless not merely because it is unrealizable, but because it makes no contact with a single living political development of today.
A revolutionary party such as the BLPI, with few or no units in Pakistan or among the Moslem masses, must do better than this. Have not the comrades of the BLPI considered the fact that the Hindu bourgeoisie would also favor a “united Constituent Assembly” for all of India? How shall you distinguish yourself from the Hindu chauvinists and nationalists of the ruling class who wish to “unify” the Moslem masses under their rule? By calling your Constituent Assembly “revolutionary”?
Here again the BLPI plays fast and loose with words. “Revolutionary” in what sense? Shall its task be to institute workers’ power and begin the construction of socialism in India? Then you are confusing your “revolutionary Constituent Assembly” with a Congress of Soviets and the proletarian dictatorship, which is really what you mean. The Constituent Assembly, as the highest political expression of the national-democratic revolution, cannot be “revolutionary” in this sense. Lenin and Trotsky, in their old writings against the left-Mensheviks and the Russian S-Rs, often denounced this mixing up and confusing of issues.
But, besides this matter of theoretical confusion, we wish to stress our principal objection to the slogan — namely, its stubborn blindness before the reality that the two peoples are drawing apart, not closer together as the very issuing of the slogan would falsely imply. The problem is: how to halt this disintegration; how to reverse the process and set the two peoples on the road leading toward one another. No well-meant abstraction will do it.
In bringing our general attitude toward this problem up to date, we offer the following set of propositions, partly a repetition of what has been previously said:
This, then, is our view of the road toward re-unification, in its broad outlines.
Last updated: 13.9.2008