Labour Monthly

Indian Masses Move Forward

BY D. P. R. Gunawardena

Source : Labour Monthly  February, 1932, No.2.
Publisher : The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/HTML : Salil Sen
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2010). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

The Civil Disobedience Campaign of 1930-31 raised into political consciousness millions and millions of the masses of India who had lived a hum-drum stupefied existence for decades. The city poor, the petty bourgeois youth, the peasantry and the workers, by their participation in the breaking of the salt laws, the violation of the forest and grazing laws, the cutting down of liquor trees, the participation in the processions and demonstrations and the hundred and one other activities, that the mass movement against British Imperialism began to develop, were roused into political life of a tempestuous character.

In isolated places like Sholapur, Chittagong and Peshawar the masses developed their revolutionary activity to such a high pitch that the sheet anchor of the Indian National Congress (Bombay Chronicle : "Non-violence is our sheet anchor") was not sufficiently powerful to hold them back. They refused to be shot down and be laboured with lathis without a vigorous resistance that made breaches in the armed front of Imperialism. The masses demonstrated their ability to conduct a stubborn resistance against the attacks of Imperialism.

The Indian bourgeoisie began to get cold feet. They never believed in independence. They never wanted to overthrow imperialism. They merely wanted to demonstrate to the imperialists the depth and the scope of the movement for national independence and bargain for a larger share of the exploitation of the masses of India. At their Indian National Congress meeting in 1929 they had passed the Lahore Resolution for Independence in order to prevent the revolutionary youth and the peasantry following the lead of the revolutionary working class.

The fierce class battles of the industrial proletariat, in 1927, 1928 and 1929 had taught the Indian bourgeoisie the need for a "Left manoeuvre" and the need to pose as the leader of the movement for independence from British imperialism. The Meerut prisoners were beginning to provide a rallying point for the revolutionary youth and the masses generally. The pressure of the revolutionary masses had compelled Gandhi and the Congress to launch the civil disobedience campaign. It was no more than a demonstration of bourgeois bluff, and bluff is the last thing for which the imperialists would forego their monopoly of exploitation in India. When the masses began to display initiative and independence, the Indian bourgeoisie shivered in their shoes. "They grumbled at those above, and they trembled in face of those below," as Marx said, speaking of the German petty-bourgeoisie.

At the first Round-Table Conference the bourgeoisie carried on their negotiations and the Gandhi-Irwin pact was signed in order to find out the terms of a workable settlement for the exploitation of the masses of India. The Indian capitalist class only wanted a larger share -- they merely asked for concessions from British imperialism. They understood well the events at Sholapur. What the textile workers of Sholahapur did, might be attempted by the workers of other industrial cities. What the peasants of Buldan and Kishoreganje could accomplish the peasants in other parts of India might emulate.

So Gandhi signed the Delhi agreement, and whilst thousands of workers and the revolutionary youth were rotting in the dungeons of imperialism the Indian bourgeoisie, by means of a packed Congress, ratified the Pact and gave Gandhi the power to barter away the independence of the country at the Round-Table Conference. In order to hold back the workers and the petty bourgeois elements that were fast getting disillusioned as to the real character and function of the Indian National Congress, a resolution on Fundamental Rights was passed, which hurt nobody and benefited none. But on the eve of the Karachi Congress the imperialists sealed the Pact with the blood of the heroic terrorist martyrs; Bhagat Singh and Sukha Dev. This embittered and made indignant the petty bourgeois youth -- particularly the student youth.

But before Gandhi and the Indian delegates came to London to attend the Round-Table Conference British imperialism was shaken by the hammer-blows of the world crisis. The pound sterling began to wobble. The proverbial soundness of the Bank of England began to be questioned. The British Navy demonstrated at historic Invergordon that the imperial navy was not as "patriotic" as the world was made to believe. The British budget could be balanced only with the stripped hide of the proletariat and the British proletariat had in no uncertain terms by indignant demonstrations throughout the industrial cities declared that it was not going to let itself be stripped without resistance.

So when the Round-Table Conference met the imperialists could not afford to make the concessions that might have satisfied the Indian bourgeoisie, and what is more British imperialism, by means of the Second Round-Table Conference through the mouth of Gandhi and the Congress and the other Indian delegates, proclaimed to the world that Gandhi and the Indian National Congress do not believe in independence.

Further, MacDonald and the other imperialists made it quite clear to the Indian bourgeoisie that until India was in a position to defend itself, Britain’s command of the Army must be undisputed and full control of India’s foreign relations must be reserved. Secondly, Britain’s relations with the Princes must be retained by the Crown. Thirdly, India’s financial stability must be effectively safeguarded and so must ultimately its internal security. Fourthly, the minorities must be protected. Fifthly, there must be no unfair economic and commercial discrimination against British traders. Sixthly, the rights of the "Services" recruited by the Secretary of State must be safeguarded. Was this the Purna Swaraj for which thousands had sacrificed their lives? Was this even "the substance of independence"? Was this even the "free and equal partnership" that Gandhi has begun to speak of late? Was this even Dominion status with transitional safeguards that the Liberals had been asking for years? This is full-blooded imperialism.

Some of the Indian bourgeoisie seemed not to be satisfied. But Gandhi was quite content. The Mahatma was quite satisfied and in his interview to the International Press representatives, Gandhi said:-

I am prepared to co-operate with the government in continuing the work of the Round-Table Conference in India with conditions. If the Government’s policy in India is one of conciliation ... and if the Premier’s declaration leaves room enough for expansion to the extent of getting acceptance of the Congress demands, then I shall advise continuous and wholehearted co-operation. I would safeguard every British interest which I held to legitimate.... I was not pessimistic when I left India, nor am I now.

This is the attitude of Gandhi to British imperialism. There was no responsible government in the scheme of the imperialists. Imperialism placated and patted communalism on the back by making the North-West Frontier a governor’s province. And it executed the same move in Sind. Burma was separated for strategic reasons. All that conduces to the consolidation of imperialism in India, all that makes for perpetuation of Imperialist domination over the 350 million slaves has been firmly established in the new constitutional scheme. And the Mahatma is happy. His gentle protest against the Bengal and other ordinances is merely a veil to impress the revolutionary youth and the petty bourgeois elements in the Congress ranks. He wants them to believe that he is a fighter for independence, that he is opposed to imperialism. What greater assurances can imperialism expect from their best friend in India to-day -- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi! His imprisonment cannot be considered genuine. After all, the 1827 law, under which he is imprisoned, is very elastic. Gandhi may yet render great services to British imperialism. At least his record from the Zulu war onwards in the service of imperialism has been a clear one.

But Gandhi was not taking into account the driving forces of the Indian Revolution. The Gandhi-Irwin pact did not succeed in putting a stop to the movement of the peasantry. The heavy peasant masses of India had begun to move. The disastrous floods in many areas and the shortage of rainfall in others since 1924 had contributed very largely to driving the peasantry to starvation and ruin. The government publication, India in 1929-30, states that:-

The most characteristic feature of the rural classes of India is, of course, their poverty. It is clearly a fact that a large proportion of the inhabitants of India are still beset with poverty of a kind which finds no parallel in Western lands, and are living on the very verge of subsistence.

The unprecedented fall in the prices of agricultural products has shattered the peasantry, In January, 1930, prices started to fall rapidly and month by month they fell. In May, 1931, they had already fallen below the level of 1873. Since 1898 rents have gone up by 60 per cent. and land revenue by 13 per cent., but prices have gone down by 20 per cent. The agriculturalists have lost about 11 annas (10d.) in the Rupee (1s. 6d.), while the government has offered them a remission of 2 annas and 7 pies in the Rupee in the United Provinces.

When the Congressmen came out of the gaols in March and April last year they already found the peasantry in revolt. This was particularly true of the United Provinces. But the North-West Frontier, Kashmir, Madras, Bengal and Bombay were all affected. It was most acute in the zemindary areas in the United Provinces, Bihar and Bengal but even the ryotwari districts of the Central Provinces, Bombay and Madras were affected. Even the peasant proprietary areas of Punjab were in distress. The Government applied coercion and repression, and the peasantry began to offer resistance at first sporadic and unorganised, but later in organised form. The peasantry of the United Provinces nearly prevented Gandhi from attending the Round-Table Conference, but Gandhi manoeuvred and obtained an "enquiry" into his reliable Bardoli and left the North-West Frontier and the United Provinces peasantry to bear the brunt of the imperialist attack.

All over India, Kisan Sabhas (peasant associations) and Ryot Associations are springing up. Mammoth peasant conferences are being held all over the country, and peasant Leagues are being built. The semi-military formation of the "Red Shirts" is assuming more and more the character of a peasant organisation on class lines as the Navajivan Bharat Sabha (New Youth of India) has helped the building up of peasant committees in certain areas of the North-West Frontier Province.

The "No-Rent" campaign in the United Provinces is at present led by the Congress. Their demands are for a 50 per cent. reduction in rent. On the 8th December over 100,000 peasants took the "no-rent" pledge (Bombay Chronicle, December 9), and over 300 meetings were held in the Allahabad district alone. In the district round Cawnpore some of the meetings were attended by over 4,000 peasants. In spite of the terror and the powerful engines of repression that imperialism has let loose on the peasants, the struggle is going to be a grim and protracted one. The peasants of the Godaverie and Kistna districts of Madras are bristling with discontent, and organisationally they are fairly strong. In Kashmir and on the North-West Frontier the struggle is assuming the character of a fierce battle. Agrarian India is ablaze. British imperialists will not succeed in stopping the agrarian revolution. The agrarian revolution will become strong enough, under the leadership of the Indian working class, to overthrow British imperialism and Indian landlordism.

The industrial workers are very restless and are in a fighting temper. The heavy retrenchments in posts, telegraphs and railways and general industrial depression (except at the moment in textiles), wage cuts and dismissals are driving the Indian workers to untold misery. But the Indian proletariat is fairly experienced in class battles. The trade union ¬movement is however split into three factions. At the Nagpur Congress, the Red Unions dominated the Congress, and the agents of the imperialists inside the working class movement, Joshi, Chaman Lal and Giri, broke away and formed the Trade Union Federation of India. The Red Unions were thus left dominating the All-India Trades Union Congress.

But during the civil disobedience campaign of 1930-31 the National Reformists began to split the unions and to disorganise the working class movement. Kandalkar, Pendse, Mehta, Tyab Sheik are the agents of the Indian bourgeoisie in the ranks of the workers. Standing on the theoretical platform. M.N. Roy they are trying to make the workers and the peasants "the arms and the legs" of the Congress. They are trying to subordinate the Indian proletariat to the bourgeoisie. They have sabotaged many strikes, the most recent one being that of the workers in the Matunga workshop of the G.I.P. Railway. On the 17th of December, 4,000 men downed tools and struck work against the dismissal of 900 men and against short time. Jamnadas Mehta supported the men on December 18 and asked them to stand firm, but by the 19th he had changed his mind and asked them to go back. The men were solid and the Red Union leaders tried their best to keep up the strike. At the same time the B.N.R. and the N.W.R. railwaymen were out, and the workers on the E.I. and S. & S.M.R. were calling for strike action. This clearly indicates that the agents of the bourgeoisie are sabotaging the strikes and disorganising the ranks of the workers. At the Calcutta Congress of the A.I.T.U.C. the National Reformists attempted to oust the Red Unions, however they were not powerful enough. They attempted to split the trade union movement instead. So there exists the Red All-India Trade Union Congress and the National Reformist A.I.TU.C. with Mukunda Lal Sarkar as secretary, and with Mehta, Kandalkar and others as leaders and finally the Trade Union Federation of the open agents of imperialism, such as Joshi and Chaman Lal.

The revolutionary temper of the workers is rising. The strike wave of 1930-31 has touched practically every part of India. The strikes at Bangalore, Kurla and Amritsar were of a very fierce character. There has been a tremendous rise in the number of strikes in the second half of 1931. In the first three months of 1931, 3,500 workers went on strike and 730,000 days were lost. Over 20,000 workers were concerned in the strikes in Bombay in the first half of the year. The railwaymen are preparing for a general strike on the 4th of February. The Indian proletariat is on the eve of big battles. The 4th of February may be the beginning of a new page in the history of the working class of India.

So Gandhi returned to an India which was not the same when he left a few months previously. The peasantry were in revolt. The industrial workers were, fighting their class enemies with determination and courage and were preparing to paralyse imperialism by a general strike on the 4th of February. The outrages of the imperialists at Chittagong, Hijli and the Frontier were rousing the masses to indignant action. On the 6th and 7th of December the Bengal Provincial Congress had demanded at their Conference at Berhampore that the struggle against imperialism be renewed. The Frontier Provincial Jirga demanded in very much stronger terms that the Working Committee put an end to the Pact. The Mahratta Youth Conference at Poona went even further and demanded an immediate renewal of the struggle. The United Provinces had already launched a "no-rent" campaign.

Gandhi was unable to withhold the masses in the ranks of the Congress. The Congress leaders were unable to hold back the movement for long. And it was easier to behead a movement by heading it at first. The development of the mass struggle compelled the Congress to formally put an end to the Pact and offer some sort of resistance. If the Congress had not acted, then the disillusionment with the Congress would have been complete and the masses would have lined up under the banner of the revolutionary proletariat, under the leadership of the Communist Party of India. It is the Royists, the "Lefts," the Nehrus and the supporters of Bose that are still in the way of this development. But events will expose the shallow hypocrisy of their words and bring to the forefront the working class as the leader of the revolution for independence, for national and social liberation for the exploited masses of India. No amount of repression will hold back the revolutionary masses. Repression will only toughen the fibre and weld the ranks of the revolutionaries. The Indian revolution will grow powerful enough to overthrow British imperialism. British imperialism cannot drown it in blood.