The Communist International

Present Events in India

Date: Dec. 1921
Source: Communist International, No.19, Dec. 1921, pp.437-442
Transcribed: Ted Crawford
HTML: Mike B. for MIA, November 2007
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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 last three months in India are witnessing a tremendous concentration of the national energy for a determined effort against the British bureaucracy. All sections of the people, with the exception of the moderates, who have allied themselves with the existing system, have joined the non-cooperation movement initiated by Gandhi, with the object of attaining Swarai or National Self-Government before the end of this year. The agrarian movement, the proletarian movement and the nationalist movement are moving concertedly towards one object; National Independence, under the guidance of the All-India National Congress, which is the acknowledged head to day of the Indian struggle against British rule.

This position of the National Congress has not been won in a day. Two years ago it was what it had always been, the political Mouthpiece of the bourgeois intellectuals and Capitalist class. But the growing disaffection of all classes of the people, due to economic forces during and after the War, and to the policy of repression pursued by the British Government, led to an instinctive urge for national guidance, for the marshalling under one banner of all discontented elements against the governing class. At first this need found satisfaction in the personality of one man, Mr. Gandhi, called by the people of India "Mahatma", or "Great Soul". But Gandhi himself needed an organisation for the dissemination of his doctrines, and he found it in the All-India National Congress. To break the class insularity of the latter, to make it truly representative of the national aspirations of all classes of Indians, he invited four thousand peasant delegates to the session of 1918, - the first time that masses had obtained access to or manifested any interest in this body of educated Indian public opinion.

Since that time the concentration of the national forces towards a single goal has been proceeding rapidly. No section of the people knew exactly whither it was going, nor the necessary tactics to pursue. The mistakes and experience of the past few years have taught them both what is their goal and what methods are within the reach of the people to attain it. At first sight, Gandhi appears a mad prophet of peace and non-resistance. But closer examination of his utterances and tactics convinces one that he has deliberately chosen the only road open to Indian patriots under the present regime of force, - the preaching of non-violent non-cooperation with the present government, In the words of Lord Sydenham, uttered in the House of Lords in England in August of this year:

"The Gandhi movement is a new feature of Indian experience. Already Gandhi is responsible for the loss of more Indian lives than was caused in suppressing the most dangerous rebellion that India has ever seen. British authority is waning. Gandhi's plan of making life impossible for the Europeans in India is much more dangerous than an armed rising, which can always be met face to face and put down. Crime and corruption are steadily growing, and before long the masses will demand what the extremists already ask for, - the end of British rule."

This is an acknowledgement on the part of the British of the wisdom of Gandhi's plan of campaign. In her present circumstances, an armed rising is out of the question in India. Therefore, the only course left is an attempt to unify the national consciousness by other means, until the day comes when its strength will be irresistible. Gandhi himself gives us glimpse of his own mind in a recent speech at Lucknow:

"Our first duty is to work on practical lines. It not in our power to unsheathe the sword, and we cannot destroy this cruel kingdom with the sword. Poor men who have no aeroplanes become non-cooperators, and there is no other remedy but non-violent non-cooperation. Our abuse and anger cannot destroy this Kingdom, nor can cries of Bande Mataram (Hail Motherland) do it. With the aid of Swadeshi we can overpower the Government and on attaining Swaraj there is no power on earth that can check us."

The program of Gandhi for national regeneration is fivefold, as laid down in the last session of the Indian National Congress and accepted by that body: 1. Removal of untouchability; 2. Removal of the curse of drink; 3. Boycott of foreign cloth and the substitution of it by Indian mill-made and handspun cloth, known as Khadder; 4. Registration of all Congress members; 5. Collection of the Tilak National Fund of one crore rupees (about one million pounds sterling) within two months. This program has been laid before the people of India to fulfil by their own efforts, before the next Session of the National Congress in December of this year. The best summary of the Congress policy is to be found in the Congress organ, "The Independent", published daily at Allahabad; in its issue of August 10, it states editorially:

There is a Government in power and our object is to embarrass and discredit it by refusing to cooperate with it and by persuading the whole country to do likewise. The Congress is composed of a few thousand people returned on the suffrage of 10,000,000 men and women, but the mere fact that a crore of people have gotten on the Congress registers is no proof that they have faith enough in the Congress or are patriots enough to non-cooperate with the Government to the uttermost. We know the majority of the country are sympathetic towards non-cooperation, but the depth and value of this sympathy are difficult to estimate. The original gulf between the English-knowing Indians and the majority of the people is not yet completely filled up. Though the Congress spoke in the name of the people, the claim had not been made good beyond challenge. But since the days of Salyagraha, the process of mutual understanding has gone on apace. In 1919, no one knew what measure of popular support would sustain the opposition of the educated classes to the Rowlett bill. It was by a stroke of inspiration that Mr. Gandhi thought of the Hartal (national strike) as a symbol and weapon of the popular will. The wonderful success of the Hartal of April 6 strengthened the leadership and frightened the government equally. From time to time, tasks have been laid on the nation with a view to gauging the extent of popular support for its policy. In great things and small, the policy has been to bring the Congress workers in close touch with the people and testing the reality of the influence of nationalism over them. The fulfilment of the program passed at the Bezwada session of the Congress is proof positive of the country's response. It is something more than a national discipline in self-denial; it is also an exercise in association, friendliness and leadership. The program adopted points to a time when Congress workers, labouring in cities and districts, will build up credit for themselves and challenge the authority of the Government. The Congress is an instrument, not only of revolution, but of slow, constructive, statesmanship."

So we find the confession that the Congress is slowly feeling its way to the national confidence, making sure of strong, popular support before venturing to launch the country into What it openly declares to be the next step of its program; mass civil disobedience and the non-payment of taxes. The creation of a central body which the majority of the population of all castes and creeds and tongues looks to as an authority to be obeyed over the heads of the British governmental machine, is in itself no small achievement. The Congress organisation has spread itself into every small village and hamlet. Volunteer and paid organisers and propagandists infest the country, preaching national solidarity, resistance by non-violent methods such as strikes and hartals, to British oppression; working for Hindu-Moslem unity by identifying the Mussulman claim to the integrity of the Kalifat with the national demand for self-government. The stress upon non-violence acted as dust thrown in the eyes of British officialdom, whose vigilance to suppress every revolutionary attempt at organisation was allayed by this subterfuge until the propaganda had done its work and the movement was too widespread and deeply rooted to put down. Indians are ready to endure all repressions to attain the desired end. Gandhi sounds the call to national self-sacrifice in the following words:

"We must treat arrest and imprisonment as the normal condition of the life of the non-cooperator. We must seek it as the soldier who goes to battle seeks death. Our triumph consists in thousands being led to prison like lambs to the slaughter-house, for no wrong whatever. The greater our innocence, the greater our strength and the swifter our victory. Complete civil disobedience is a slate of peaceful rebellion, a refusal to obey every single state-made law. It is certainly more dangerous than an armed rebellion. It is my firm conviction that if we care bring about a successful boycott of foreign cloth, we can inaugurate civil disobedience on a scale that no government can resist."

The boycott of foreign cloth is the preliminary test of national solidarity before introducing the last stage of the national struggle, which Gandhi calls "civil disobedience", including non-payment of taxes, and which must inevitably lead to an open break with the Government. Whether the boycott will be any more successful than the earlier attempt at non-cooperation by the surrender of government posts and emptying of government schools, remains to be seen. So far, popular enthusiasm runs high. Every city and town is filled with Congress committees whose business it is to preach boycott and destruction of foreign cloth. Huge bonfires are made in all the great centres, where tens of thousands of people gather to burn their foreign wearing apparel, and take a vow henceforth to wear only the homespun "khadder" made on Indian looms and of Indian yarn. Pledges are given by the great Indian importing houses not to import foreign goods; Indian mill-owners are appealed to not to take advantage of the national enthusiasm by raising their prices. It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the economic soundness of the boycott, based upon sentiment and against whose success many factors are working. Our concern is with the larger issue, the undeniable existence in India or a widespread feeling or national solidarity, of national enthusiasm and desire to end the present system of government which presages an approaching struggle.

In the words of the "Independent" of August 9th: "Boycott of foreign goods is negative and preliminary: Swadeshi (wearing of home-made goods) is positive and permanent. The linking up of the political idea of Swaraj (self-government) with the factor of economic freedom and self-sufficiency, and the necessary connection between politics and economics are not obvious on the surface nor even easy of perception without a certain amount of mental preparation. If by any means, India ceases to be profitable to England, the British hold on us will relax and finally vanish. It would not be worth England's while to hold the country by a policy which is the negation of popular will. If England finds there is no profit in the Indian Empire, she will let the Indians follow their own path. The present boycott is a permanent measure, intended to withdraw all temptations from other countries, including England, to invade and hold India for her rnarkets."

The idea is that all imports of foreign cloth will cease with the refusal of Indians to purchase and that the nation will wear only Indian made clothing. Whether or not the whole nation will lend itself to the boycott, the next few months will show. The idea is partly economic, that is, to encourage Indian industries and to damage English trade, but there is another idea behind this, - to measure to what extent the Indian people are ready to support the resolutions of the Congress, in other words, to put the feeling of national solidarity to test. In the words of the nationalists, "The boycott of foreign cloth is another test whose successful fulfilment will show that the country is solidly behind the Congress and secondly, that the influence of Congressmen all over the country is so strong that the Congress would be justified in calling for mass civil disobedience and non-payment of taxes. The Congress which could work a revolution in the social and economic habits of the nation may be trusted to effect a political revolution at any moment."

Thus Gandhi's cry of "back to the Charka" (spinning wheel) has an immediate practical purpose, whatever one may think of the economic impossibility of making good by hand-weaving the enormous amount of cloth formerly imported to clothe the Indian people. At present, Indian mills are able to supply only one-half the necessary quantity. Just as the preaching of non-violence, aside from his personal philosophy, was useful in giving room for nationalistic propaganda on a wide scale, which would otherwise have been impossible owing to governmental repression, so the idea behind the boycott movement Is twofold: one to encourage the native industry by prohibiting foreign goods, the other to teach the masses nationalism by imposing upon them a practical task for performance, and by nation-wide propaganda, to unify the people yet more for a further step in advance.

At present writing, the Prince of Wales has arrived in India, and according to a resolution passed in the last session of the Congress, his visit is being boycotted by Indian nationalists of all classes except the moderates. Upon his arrival in Bombay at the end of October, he was greeted by a general strike of the workers of that port, and no Indian of any position participated in the festivities arranged for his reception. This policy has been adopted, because his visit has a political motive behind it "to re-establish the lost prestige of the Government, which the Congress has pledged itself to destroy utterly". The true value of such a national boycott lies, again, in the proof it will give of Congress leadership over the nation as a whole.

In the delicate question of Hindu-Muslim unity, we find the Congress again pursuing tactics seemingly impracticable, with a very definite object in view. What is the idea of a nation whose population is overwhelmingly Hindu, giving open support to the Kalifat movement of the Mussulmans which, in the words of an Englishman, "bears as much relation to Indian nationalism as the Irish Sinn Fein movement does to the Grand Llama of Tibet?" The Mussulmans of India have heretofore been separated from the Hindu population by a deliberate policy of the British to "divide and rule". Special privileges were granted to Indian Mohammedans and religious differences were artificially kept alive by provocation on the part of Government agents. To-day Hindus and Moslems have made common cause against the Government, and although the unity is achieved on apparently absurd sentimental grounds, - support of the Kalifat" movement by the Hindus in return for Muslim support of the nationalist program - a real fusion of the leaders has been brought about, and the All-India Kalifat Committee has voluntarily submitted itself to the leadership of the Indian National Congress, pledging its members to abide by the decisions of that body, while such prominent leaders of the Mussulman element as the two Ali brothers, are identified with the Congress movement and devotedly attached to the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. The task of the latter is to persuade Indian Mussulmans to regard themselves as first of all Indians, and to fight the battle of the Kalifat on Indian soil. In his own words: The Mussulmans are impatient about the Kalifat wrongs, but the shortest and straightest way of serving the Kalifat is Swardeshi. By it we make India powerful and an increase in Indian power means increased power to defend .the Kalifat". And Mohammed Ali, speaking together with Gandhi at a mass meeting in Lucknow, declared that "the Indian Muslims have chosen the path of non-violent non-cooperation in the belief that by this course they could best secure the interests of their country and their faith."

At all meetings of the Central and District Kalifat Committees, the Congress resolutions on non-cooperation, non-violence, boycott of foreign goods, the wearing of homespun cloth and the attainment of Swaraj have been unanimously adopted. The Mohammedans of several districts in which repression is very strong, have applied to the Congress for permission to start civil disobedience, thus acknowledging the Congress as their head. Resolutions against cow-killing and sacrifice in the Moslem religious festivals have been passed in various parts of India, as a means of satisfying the Hindu religious feeling, and both Hindus and Mussulmans are prosecuting the non-cooperation campaign with equal vigor and determination. Saukat Ali, in a recent speech delivered just before his arrest, declared that "Hindus and Mussulmans should make an effort to make the non-cooperation campaign a success. The Government has the chance to make peace with us and to meet our Chief by the end of September. Reconciliation in October would be very difficult, and in December, God help us, we will declare our independence".

The most striking success of the Congress campaign has been the collection within the specified period of two months of the National Fund of one million pounds sterling, to be used for nationalistic propaganda and to purchase ten million charkas (spinning wheels), in order to stimulate the home manufacture of wearing apparel. In a vigorous campaign organised throughout the length and breadth of India, the Congress leaders appealed for contribution to the fund from all classes of the people. Sub-committees sprang up in every town, and no village was too small to contribute its quota. India women, who have been forsaking their secluded mode of life during the past few years, took up the cause with enthusiasm, contributing their jewels, rich clothing and dowries to the fund. Collection poured in from huge mass meetings held in every part of India, and on the last night of the date set, just two months from the time of starting, the Congress Committee was able to announce the successful completion of this part of its programme - a million pounds in the national treasury contributed by Indians of every caste end creed, to further the cause or national independence.

Equally successful has been the registration of membership on the Congress rolls of ten million names, who stand pledged to support all measures passed by that body. As a further means of co-ordination and centralisation, a working committee of seven members has been elected to carry on the campaign, and this committee, which consists of the seven most prominent men, Hindus and Mussulmans, in the Indian Nationalist movement, is invested with plenary powers until the next session of the Congress in December of this year. The figure of Gandhi, by common consent, still carries the greatest weight in this working committee, and there has been talk from the opposition party of moderates, against the "Gandhian Dictatorship". Apropos of this term, Mr. Stokes, an American missionary who identified himself with the non-cooperation movement in India, states: "The two forces of bureaucracy and of Nationalism are now closing for a final struggle and trial of strength. The next few months will be the most critical. Our opponents will act and speak as one. This is and has always been their strength, while our weakness has always been division of counsels. We have no other way of assuring unanimity at this juncture than by building up our unity about the personality of Mahatmaji, His personality and the dynamic will-force associated with it, are our greatest assets to-day."

However, the personality of Gandhi, compelling as it is, is not the only factor in the present Indian movement. C.R. Das has been elected president of the next session of the Congress by an overwhelming majority and he ranks close to Gandhi in power end popularity, while the two Ali brothers and Laipat Rai have great weight and influence. New leaders are being thrown on the screen of Indian public life with astonishing rapidity, and these new leaders are drawn from the more youthful and progressive section of the middle class, who respond to the growing revolutionary spirit of the masses, that pushes them ever leftward.

The great deficiency of the Congress movement to-day is lack of scientific understanding of the various social forces which must be dealt with. This lack of comprehension is shown by the tactics pursued by the leaders in regard to the two most important factors in present day Indian life, - the city proletariat and the discontented peasantry, which for the last four years have been showing signs of extreme activity in an effort to change their miserable situation. The new Trade Union Movement has been almost completely neglected by the Nationalist leaders, and has allowed to fall into the hands of the reactionary English Trade Unionists and paid Government agents. Yet despite this neglect of the constructive side of Indian Trade Unionism, the Nationalists have not hesitated to exploit the strike movement of the city workers in behalf of the nationalist cause. Sending their propagandists to the factories and workers and inducing them to declare political strikes under circumstances which inevitably to catastrophe, failure and loss of life. Such was the recent strike of the railway and steamship workers at Chandpur called by the Nationalists in response to the refusal of the Railway Steamship Companies to grant free transport to the coolies fleeing away from the Assam Tea Gardens. The Government, as always in cases of this kind, promptly intervened on the Side of the Companies and sent armed police to "maintain law and order", and incidentally to break the strike, forcing the workers to return their jobs. The case of the returning coolies from Assam is another instance of unwise nationalistic agitation among a defenseless and ignorant mass of unskilled workers. Non-cooperators urged them to leave their badly-paid and onerous labour in the unhealthy tea gardens of Assam, and to return to their native villages. A huge exodus commenced, the tea-planters became frightened, induced the Steamship Companies to refuse transport to the coolies, who were abandoned to hunger and exposed to cold at the river and railway termini. Cholera broke out among them, causing several hundred deaths. At the instigation of the tea planters the Government sent police to drive the wretched coolies away from the poor shelter of the third class waiting rooms into the open fields. It needed all the organisation of the non-cooperators to repair the serious mischief by sending medical aid, food and collecting money to help the unfortunate sufferers. The strike of the steamship and railway workers described above, was the result, and this too, ended in disaster. This whole incident is a very typical one of the unwise tactics pursued by the Nationalists in their use of Labour to serve their own cause, and as a result of the long series of strike failures and repressions brought down upon the heads of the workers by their premature participation in political life, the strike movement in India has suffered a temporary relapse, and the workers are abandoning their political activity for the domain of organisation and improvement by arbitration of their economic lot. In a recent pronouncement of the Government policy towards Labour, uttered in one of the Provincial legislative councils, it is declared that: "The Government policy in all industrial strikes has been to maintain law and order and to effect friendly settlements when opportunity offers. A census of industrial wages and a cost of living index is being taken, and a chain of labour bureaux will be established in every province. Statistics will show in any trade dispute whether or not employees are being paid the standard wage and if their wages are above or below the cost living for persons of that class of life." Recently, the Government has adopted the policy or intervening in all disputes between capital and labour, and of enforcing a settlement adverse to the strikers. Law-suits are instituted by the Government against the workers, in cases where rioting occurs, and no repression has been spared to discourage the militant spirit of Labour which was so marked a feature of the early years of the Indian Trade Union movement. A recent application has been made to the Government of India by the General Secretary of the North Western Railway Union that Indian railwaymen be deputed to attend the International Labour Conference at Geneva as Labour of other industries have previously been represented there. The All-India Trade Union Congress is affiliated to the British Labour Party.

What is true for the industrial proletariat holds good for the agricultural labourers. As yet, no help has been given by the Nationalists to the agrarian struggle that is being waged in all parts of India, and every attempt on the part of the miserable agriculturists to help themselves by a show of force has been reproved and discouraged the Congress leaders. The recent rising of the Kisan Sabhas in the United Provinces was put down by the Government troops with brutal force, and the Congress workers went among them, trying to restrain their violence, deprecating the looting of houses and burning of crops of the landlords by the enraged field workers, and preaching to them non-violence and self-discipline with the vague promise of instituting at some future day the non-payment of taxes as a form mass civil disobedience on the part of the poor and landless peasantry. This rising of the Kisan Sabhas forced the Government to introduce bill in the Legislative Council, amending the Tenancy Act of 1886 with a view to improving the condition of the agricultural workers. But the amendment met with so fierce a resistance on the part of the Taluqdars or great landlords, that most of the features in favour of the poor tenants were drooped from the bill, and several new clauses introduced which give the landlord added power, as for example, the right to eject any tenant from a leasehold whose character is held to be objectionable.

Like the rising of the Kisan Sabhas in the north, the Moplah rising on the Southern coast of Malabar in August-September of this year, is also a protest of the underpaid and overworked agricultural labourers and poor peasants against the oppression of the landlords Fighting between the Moplahs and the Government troops still continues, but no action has been taken by the Congress leaders in behalf of the unfortunate workers who are being massacred in great numbers and non-violence is being preached as assiduously as ever.

Undoubtedly, the Nationalists of the Congress movement hold that the time is not ripe for an open declaration of war against the Government, and they fear to risk a premature trial of strength against a bureaucracy so Well equipped with all the machinery of repression. Gandhi's ingenious idea of having the whole population go to jail seems to them the only feasible plan until such time as the nation feels itself united and strong enough for a direct challenge to the existing Government. Meantime, the Government itself is taking steps to suppress the movement that is sweeping the country. The jails are filled with non-cooperators, detained on the flimsiest charges, or on no charge at all. To wear a Gandhi cap or a suit of Khadder homespun cloth is sufficient for a Government servant to lose his job, and often, to go to jail, Houses are searched, newspapers suppressed, meetings prohibited, speakers summoned to court and held accountable for their slightest utterance. Sir George Lloyd, Governor of Bombay Province, addressing a recent meeting of non-Brahmins declared: "The campaign of vilification in the press is growing steadily worse and worse, more bitter and unbridled. Public platforms are being used more and more for the preaching of open sedition. The path of the Government is clear. Let it be clearly understood and always remembered that the Government's first duty is to maintain law and order, and that duty will be rigidly carried out, The Government would fail in its duty if it allowed infringements of the law to go unpunished and the fatal seed of indiscipline and contempt for legality is allowed to lead to chaos and anarchy" To which utterance the Nationalists responded: "Open sedition, not secret, is spreading disaffection against the present system of government. Every official ought by this time to have realised that the nation has been awakened to a degree that will make it impossible for any amount of repression to break its spirit. "Chaos and anarchy", in the sense used by his Excellency, are hardly to be stopped. For nothing is so chaotic and anarchic as governing men without their free consent."

In addition to repressive measures, the Government tries by other means to break the strength of the present movement towards national unity. Under its fostering care, the Non-Brahmin League is growing, an organisation whose object is to spread bitterness between the Hindus of different castes. Likewise, the Aman Sabhas, and Anti-Non-Cooperation societies, now being organised in every Indian town, are openly acknowledged to be of official origin and of artificial growth; and as such, must fail largely in their purpose. The Indian moderates, organised into the Liberal League, whose platform is "cooperation with the present Government and attainment of home rule by gradual stages within the British Empire", represent the only section of the Indian people, aside from the native Princes, which avowedly supports the Government and stands behind its reactionary policy at the present time. By their participation in the Reform Councils recently inaugurated under the Montague Chelmsford Reform Scheme, the moderates give constitutional sanction to the bureaucratic tyranny. In a speech delivered by Dr. Asthana, president of the Liberal League Conference held recently in Lucknow, the attitude of the moderates is thus defined:

"No one can deny that the present ferment in India is due more to economic than to political causes. Had it not been for the acute distress caused by the rise in prices, by the dearness of food and cloth, the two prime necessities of life, we should not have heard of agrarian riots among us. The average riot requires no more than cheap grains and cheap cloth, and if these are within his reach, he cares but little for political doctrines and systems of government. We are moving in a vicious circle. Prices have risen and therefore wages have risen, and because wages have risen, prices are going still higher. It is the duty of the Government to break this vicious circle. We Liberals are working to our best ability to make the reforms a success."

It is of this class of Indians that Gandhi speaks when he addressed a mass meeting recently in the following words; "Bureaucracy, does not mean Englishmen only. It also means thousands of Indians trained by them. The Indian soldier and civilian are being used more and more for advancing the system. Our demoralisation is complete when we become willing tools in the hands of the tyrant. The repression now assuming definite shape in our land is therefore of a far more dangerous type than hitherto." And speaking at Lucknow before a hundred thousand people, who waited m the rain for his arrival and who listened to him reverently until the end of his two hours discourse, Gandhi proposed the remedy for the present state of affairs: "We must answer the policy of Government repression by creating in every province an army of fifty thousand workers who will look to jail as their liberation, and whom no army in the world can crush. Within three months, we will either mend this present Government or end it."