Labour Monthly, March 1943
Source: Labour Monthly, March 1943, pp. 87-91;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
[Being the speech (considerably abridged) on the present national questions in India at an Enlarged Central Committee of the Communist Party of India, held in September,1942. – Ed. L.M.]
The question of national unity, of Hindu-Muslim unity, has always been before our country and therefore only if we see its evolution side by side with that of our national movement, can we understand it properly in its present phase. The question itself has gone through different phases of development alongside with the different phases through which our national movement itself has gone. However, only such an historical dynamic treatment of the problem can enable us to understand its significance to-day, in to-day’s phase of our national movement. Old ways of looking at the problem, old solutions, still persist in our understanding, and quite naturally so. These tendencies, these outmoded ways of thinking, which really form the deviations of to-day, have to be brought out and nailed down sharply, not only in terms of principles, but also in terms of historical evolution, otherwise they cannot be rooted out. Comrades raise several doubts, several questions. Where do these arise from? From nowhere else except our own former approach to the problem before the outbreak of the war. That is why a historical-political review is necessary, a review of how the question of Hindu-Muslim unity is developed through the three different phases of our national movement. Only in this way can we understand the significance of Pakistan and of the demand for the self-determination of nationalities; only in this way can we understand exactly why these demands have arisen now at this time and not before.
If we look back and examine the evolution of the problem, we find three distinct approaches to the problem in three distinct periods, each one corresponding to a particular phase of our national movement.
In the first and earliest period, it was the fundamental axiom of the national movement (which was itself in its earliest period) that India is one nation; the difference between the Hindus and the Muslims is only one of religion; the stronger the national urge among the masses of both religions grows, the sooner this difference will go off and Hindus and Muslims will grow together as one. At this period, propaganda for unity on the basis of nationalism against imperialism was considered adequate solution of the problem. Such propaganda was carried on by the Liberals in the earliest period of the national movement and the Liberals at that period were the leaders of the incipient national movement. The Liberals, who were the earliest nationalists, just argued: “What is needed to solve the problem is nationalist consciousness.” This period lasted till about 1921, when it reached its culmination in the Khilafat-Congress unity.
The second period lasts from 1921 up to about 1936. In this period, with the further development of the nationalist movement, comes a further development of the problem of Hindu-Muslim unity themselves, and then seemingly “new” problems crop up ... To have a static conception of a nation is to be blind to all such development, is to be blind to historical development and reality. Let us take the case of our own country. There have been different nationalities, not yet grown to full nationhood, lying dormant within it. Actually it was the foreign power, by its conquest and consequent shattering of all the old forms of economy, which actually started the process of “national” development. Before this foreign conquest, India was mainly of a feudal-village economy and therefore could not be called a “nation” in the modern bourgeois sense of the term. Before the British conquest of India, there was no part of India which can be described as a nation in the bourgeois sense. How then does this “national” development begin under the British in a typically uneven way? Such an uneven development had already set in even under a pre-capitalist economy, due to various historical and geographical causes. But this uneven development is accentuated by imperialism. This accentuated uneven development, imposed by imperialist exploitation and by the imperialist imposed distorted thwarted forms of capitalist development, gives rise in course of time to various problems. In certain parts, bourgeois development comes earliest; these parts naturally lead the national anti-imperialist movement and at that stage we ourselves were not conscious that we are actually a multi-national state. As bourgeois development goes on spreading and as the masses of the people and specially the peasantry in all parts of India wake up to political consciousness, then it is that individual national movements begin to arise within the framework of the all-Indian national movement against imperialism.
It was this unrest of the border nationalities, their democratic movement for self-expression within the broad framework of the struggle against Tsarism, that characterises the Russia of 1912-14. Bourgeois separatist movements arise in the border nationalities, seeking to take advantage of, and exploit, this democratic sentiment of the masses. As against this, the labour movement in the border regions led by the Bolsheviks seeks to combat this separatist tendency and to unite all the nationalities for struggle against Tsarism. This is the crux of the national problem that came up before the Bolshevik Party in 1912. The Bolsheviks realised that only by recognising the essentially democratic and progressive character of this striving of the nationalities for self-determination, only by conceding this as a right, could they fight the bourgeois separatist tendencies successfully and forge unbreakable all-in unity against the Tsarist autocracy. The Bolsheviks demarcated clearly between two things: (1) the awakening to national consciousness of new nationalities, an awakening which was historically progressive and found its expression in the demand for self-determination; (2) the way in which the bourgeoisie within these nationalities were seeking to take advantage of this essentially democratic urge of the masses and lead it into their own separatist class channels. They realised that to grant the first is the only way to defeat the second and to forge a greater revolutionary unity of all the masses than ever before.
Similarly, here too in our own country, the problem of unifying the different sections of our people against imperialism, for the war of liberation against Fascism arises at a time when the spread of the national movement has aroused various dormant nationalities of our land to life, when new “national” urges are beginning to appear under this impact. Unless we recognise this fact, we cannot find the key to unity to-day.
It is when we examine the present period that the full force of Stalin’s remark comes out before us: “In the case of India, too, it will probably he found that innumerable nationalities, till then lying dormant, would come to life with the further course of bourgeois development.”
We Communists recognise, and explain clearly to the people, two things: (1) The problem of nationalities can only be solved in a firm and lasting manner under Socialism when the disuniting factor of the bourgeoisie disappears; (2) But at the same time, a partial solution is also possible under capitalism, but only under conditions of complete and full democracy. The solution which the C.P.S.U. put forward in 1917 was one of attaining complete democracy, of a radical complete democratic revolution.
This is the crux of the problem which the bourgeois-reformists entirely pass over. The problem to-day is not a constitution-mongering problem of remaking boundaries. The question of communal unity must be seen as a revolutionary question of forging revolutionary unity of all sections of our people to break imperialist-feudal rule. The breaking of this rule is the precondition to the people being able to remake boundaries its a democratic way.
This is where the Communist solution is a revolutionary solution and is sharply demarcated from all constitution-mongering of the Liberals and the bourgeois-reformists. To try to wander off into enthnographic pastimes and boundary-making formulae is to stray from the revolutionary path into the path of reformism. The problem before us to-day is not one of drawing maps and making boundaries, but one of forging the revolutionary unity of action of all sections of our people, to win the common war, of liberation and to secure the common freedom of all.
This is what is stressed in paragraph 1 of our Resolution. That our solution is not a constitutional solution, that the cornerstone of our policy is the unity of the masses as the vanguard of the national movement.
Our policy with respect to the Hindu-Moslem problem fits into this general framework. This policy has to be sharply and clearly demarcated from (1) the stand of Jinnah and the separatists; (2) the stand of the National Congress leadership; (3) the stand of the Akhanda Hindustan-wallas ....
It is necessary, in closing, to stress once again one important point – that is the crux of Communist policy. The question of the self-determination of nationalities is to be looked upon as a political revolutionary question, not a constitutional question.
It is the constitutionalist whose first question is: “Whether to separate or not.” But Communists say: When we grant the right of self-determination as an unconditional right, then this right becomes the hall-mark of sovereignty, of equality. The way in which we should pose the question of nationalities is: how shall we define the nationalities so as to create conditions where there still be the fullest and freest flowering and development of national characteristics? We keep two aspects in mind, two aspects which cannot be separated: (1) Right of separation; (2) Object of unification. Our solution itself is no static solution. In the Soviet Union, for example, after the Revolution itself, a number of nationalities attained full-fledged nationhood in course of time. Hence, we steadily keep before ourselves the two criteria: (1) the grant of the right of separation dispels distrust and creates unity here and now. (2) We should so demarcate the nationalities that in a free and democratic India, the nationalities will grow and flower, will develop towards Socialism.