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H. J.

Books in Review


(March 1950)

From The New International, Vol. XVI No. 2, March–April 1950, pp. 127–128.
Transcribed by & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

India, Pakistan, and the West
by Percival Spear, Ph.D.
The Home University Library, Oxford University Press, 1949.

In the last century a number of British scholars and historians produced notable works, scholarly and urbane in content and style, describing the vast sub-continent that had fallen into the hands of the Empire. To be sure, these works carefully skirted the manner by which the conquest had taken place and concerned themselves largely with the complex history of this strange and fascinating land. The purpose of this school of literature was to make India accessible to the Western World in acceptable term?. Not until much later, when the first wave of German specialists began their studies, was it realized that the 6,000-odd years of Indian history and thought had roots not so easily accessible to bourgeois historians.

But the social and national struggle of India, centering around the Congress Party and Gandhi, in turn produced a new type of literature, political and sociological in nature. Problems of economy, irrigation and agriculture, politics and government, were dealt with. Class analysis and class rivalries tended to blot out the traditional approach to Indian affairs. It appeared that broad divisions such as Hindu and Moslem, or Buddhism as opposed to Mohammedanism, were to be erased in the heat of the anti-imperialist and class struggles. The issue of caste faded before that of class.

Unfortunately for India, however, a sharp reversal of the historic trend set in. The reasons for this are well worth a detailed study which has yet to be made. The catastrophic division of India, now an accepted fact, took place. It is only natural under these circumstances that a corresponding reversal of literature dealing with India should accompany this; a throwback to a previous period when English historians objectively described traits of Hindu and Moslem, Hindu theology, Hindu caste and Buddhist doctrine. Such is this recently published work of Percival Spear, a fellow at Cambridge University.

As a historic and fairly illuminating introduction to the religious, communal and social problems of India, no fault can be found with this work. Spear finds that India has “twin souls” – Hindu and Moslem – and it must be admitted that the degree, and depth of this distinction was sadly underestimated by socialist and Marxist writers. The main scope of this short book is to trace and outline the nature of this difference. Like English historians of the classic school, the author has an admirable skill in concentrating, digesting and summarizing a great mass of material and presenting it in the cool, somewhat ironical manner associated with such writers. His portrait of Hindu and Moslem soul is undoubtedly largely influenced by E.M. Forster’s Passage to India. There is little economic or social analysis in this work and the influence of such factors is glossed over except for the casual remark (p. 91) that “...most of the industrial resources and nearly all the capital and skill of united India were in the hands of the Hindus.”

In the concluding chapter, from page 212 onward, there is an admirable summary of the fantastically difficult problems, in all fields, which confront the ruling Hindu society – the caste problem, now brought to the forefront by the social reform bill proposed by Nehru; the problem of Hindu theology in relation to Western concepts; the problem of historic Hindu culture and its effort to survive. To this must be added, of course, the problem of tightening relations between India and Pakistan which constitute a permanent menace of war between these two areas of the sub-continent. In restating lasting problems in the light of the division of India, this work has perhaps begun a new phase of the vast literature dealing with the most important nation in the Asiatic world.

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