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Sylvia Merrill


Reviewing Indian Books

(February 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 2, February 1943, pp. 63–64.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In the December issue of The New International you carried a review of a book entitled India Without Fable by Kate L. Mitchell. When I saw the head on the review, Stalinism With Fables, I was as mystified as the reviewer, Francis Taylor, seems to have been by the political line of the book.

So far as I could discern, K.L. Mitchell is not a Stalinist, and the book did not leave the impression that there are two fables being perpetrated on the reader, as the reviewer would have one believe.

First for the fables: The British improved fend irrigation and they “brought” political consciousness to the people. Now, I am not an Indian expert, but it seems to me that there is nothing erroneous in saying the British improved land irrigation, which without a doubt they did. It would be erroneous to say this without qualifying it and explaining that the British did this only with a view to developing India sufficiently to make her exploitation greater. And this I believe the author does in the book. She says that in order for Britain to develop an Indian market for British goods, the British had to construct

“an extensive network of railways, development of roads and ports, the establishment of postal and telegraph services, renewed attention to irrigation projects, the introduction of an English system of education to train the necessary clerks and subordinate members of the civil service ...”

In her description of the beginnings of the Nationalist Congress, she points out very dearly that the British were instrumental in its formation only to stem the tide they felt arising. The baby grew into a monster for British imperialism and they dropped it like a hot potato.

To extract these so-called fables from context is a spirit very alien to the Marxist movement.

Now for the “fraud” and “swindle” that the author of the book is supposedly putting over on the reader in her political views.

I wish the reviewer would re-read the book in a spirit of inquiry rather than rage. There certainly are enough bones of contention we have with the political line of the book to attack it for what it is – not for what the reviewer would read into it. A novice let alone a person with some political savvy, can see from the manner in which Mitchell “objectively” treats the views of the leaders of Indian nationalism that she believes that Nehru is the man to head the Indian government. This she believes because Nehru to her is a genuine anti-fascist and knows best how to compromise with the British and set up a government for defense of India against Japan. On the basis of this, to categorize her as a Stalinist is to use the Stalinist’s method of the third period – lumping everyone together. Thus Roosevelt became a fascist. In a similar manner Mitchell becomes a “liberal-Stalinist type.”

The Marxist movement has always used great care in labels. Labeling a bottle “Poison” without saying what kind can lead to theoretical errors of no mean proportion. Who would put Pearl Buck and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in the same camp? No more can you put K.L. Mitchell in the camp of the Stalinists on the basis of this book. Can you put Henry Wallace in the camp of the Stalinists? Of course not. Objectively their lines coincide on a whole host of questions, but actually they are motivated by different phenomena. Gurley Flynn on what is best for Russia, Pearl Buck and Mitchell on a desire for Indian independence which can never be achieved by their methods, and Wallace by a desire to preserve democratic imperialist America – an equally ephemeral hope.

It is just as wrong to say that the author “really” is not on the side of the Indian people in their struggle against imperialism. If by “really” you mean the proletarian revolution, you must attack her from another angle altogether. The trouble with the liberals of the type of Mitchell and Pearl Buck is not that they don’t want Indian freedom, but they do not conceive of the working class playing a decisive role. To them Indian freedom is something maneuvered on top by the British and the Congress leaders. But unlike the Stalinists (whom they are not at all loathe to play ball with), they do not decide that up to June 21 they are for independence by whatever means necessary and on June 22 they are not. Also the liberals draw their strength from the petty bourgeoisie, the Stalinists do not.

It is interesting to note that in the closing pages of this book, which are appended on to an otherwise good layman’s guide to the history and background of India, no mention of Russia is made. A strange Stalinist indeed. And the Indian Stalinists, if mentioned at all (I do not have the book on hand) are certainly not glorified.

The program of the revolutionary socialists is certainly of such a character that it can take all comers and refute their arguments on the grounds on which they stand. It is not necessary to categorize them falsely in order to destroy their arguments or policies.

Sylvia Merrill

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