The Political Situation in India
(21 July 1922)
Confusion in the National Congress
The arrest of Gandhi has at last let loose the various conflicting economic interests and social tendencies that were knit in a superficial unity in the National Congress under the personal influence of Gandhi. A great confusion and the inevitable disintegration are the two most outstanding features of the Indian movement today. It has arrived at the close of one period, but has not as yet found its way into the next. In order best to understand the present situation it is necessary to make a short review of the past months which directly led up to it.
The magnificent demonstrations and mass strikes during the visit of the Prince of Wales brought into relief two facts, viz., the growing rebellious spirit of the masses, and the unwillingness of the Nationalist leaders, above all Gandhi, to develop or even to countenance this spirit which, spelt revolution. The Ahmedabad Congress met in an extremely revolutionary period, but it was not governmental repression, which had already been started with the arrest of the President-elect C. R. Das, Lajpat Rai, Ali Brothers and other influential leaders, but the timidity of the leadership which turned it into a tame, impotent show. It was an instance of rank betrayal of the revolutionary forces by the bourgeois leadership. While throughout the length and breadth of the country mass demonstrations were challenging the State’s authority to preserve law and order, the Congress harped on the tune of non-violence, and denounced the revolutionary action of the masses as “rowdyism” and “forces of evil”. Instead of adopting a fighting program, embracing the redress of the immediate grievances of the workers and peasants, thus to involve them more consciously and actively in the struggle, the Ahmedabad Congress adopted the so-called “Constructive Program” which was nothing less than a repudiation of all revolutionary preparations. This “ Constructive Program ” was prefaced by summary abandonment of the tactics of non-cooperation as well as of the powerful slogan of civil disobedience given out but a few weeks before the Congress met at Ahmedabad, which slogan was very enthusiastically responded to by the poor peasantry, because it corresponded to their economic needs. The Congress through the mouth of its elected dictator, Gandhi, declared that civil disobedience could not be declared until there was a “perfect atmosphere of non-violence in the country”. This decision of Ahmedabad was corroborated
by the Working Committee of the Congress in its session held at Badoli, a district in Guzrat winch had been chosen by Gandhi as the first place where civil disobedience should be started under his personal supervision. The Bardoli Resolution, which suspended all revolutionary activities, included the following clauses which left no doubt whatsoever as to the social affiliation of the Congress leadership. It was resolved at Bardoli:
Clause 1. The Working Committee deplores the inhuman conduct of the mob at Chauri Chaura in having brutally murdered constables and wantonly burned police thana (station).
Clause 2. In view of the violent outbreaks every time mass civil disobedience is inaugurated, indicating that the country is not non-violent enough, the Working Committee of the Congress resolves that mass civil disobedience … be suspended, and instructs the local Congress Committees to advise the cultivators to pay laud revenue and other taxes due to the government, and to suspend every other activity of an offensive character.
Clause 3. The suspension of mass civil disobedience shall be continued until the atmosphere is so non-violent as to insure the non-repetition of atrocities such as at Gorakhpur or of the hooliganism such as at Bombay and Madras on the 17th of November and the 13th of January.
Clause 5. All volunteer processions and public meetings for the defiance of authority should be stopped ….
Clause 6. The Working Committee advises Congress workers and organizations to inform the ryots (peasants) that withholding of rent payment to the Zemindars (landlords) is contrary to the Congress resolutions and injurious to the best interests of the country.
Clause 7. The working Committee assures the Zemindars that the Congress movement is in no way intended to attack their legal rights and that even where the ryots have grievances, the Committee desires that redress be sought by mutual consultation and arbitration.
The “atrocities” and “hooliganism” referred to in clause 2 were the uprisings of the poor peasantry against the landlords, and the magnificent mass strikes with which the Prince was greeted.
The following are the outstanding clauses of the so-called “Constructive Program” adopted in place of militant non-cooperation and civil disobedience:
- “To enlist 10,000,000 members of the Congress, all to believe in non-violence and truth as indispensable for Swaraj (home rule).
- To popularize the Charka (spinning wheel) and Khaddar (homespun). All Congress workers should dress in Khaddar and learn to spin.
- To organize National schools; but no picketing of government schools.
- To uplift the depressed classes.
- To organize a social service department to promote unity among all classes and races. This department is to render help to all in time of illness or accident.”
This is (the program with which Congress wants to lead the movement for national liberation. The consequences of such impotency are inevitable and were not long in making themselves felt in the movement.
A perusal of the Bardoli resolution and the sayings of Gandhi and other leaders do not permit one even to suspect that it might have been a caution against government provocation. The reasons for the shameful retreat are clearly and blandly stated. The interests of the propertied class must have first consideration: British rule may be “Satanic”, but landlordism is sacred.
The Arrest of Gandhi and After
The absence of any serious demonstration to protest against the arrest of the Ali Brothers revealed the weakness of the hold that the Khilafat cry had on the Moslem masses. The visit of the Prince of Wales in such a perilous period was contrived in order to measure the strength of the movement; so also was the policy of Reading in arresting a number of influential leaders of the Congress. The object of the government was realized; the cleavage between the masses and the leadership was revealed. Consequently, there was no risk in coming down upon the Congress with a heavy hand of repression. This was done. Even Gandhi, whose post-Ahmedabad activities were more helpful to the government than anything else, was not spared, evidently to vindicate the prestige of Imperialism. The bourgeois character of the Congress had alienated it so much from the masses by the time Gandhi, the idol of the Indian people, was arrested, that such a monstrous action of repression, to commit which even the British government hesitated for mouth, created hardly a ripple of indignant demonstration in the country. The venerated Mahatma was arrested and sent to jail for six years; sentimental speeches were made to pay homage to the martyred saint and patriot; implicit faithfulness was professed to follow the liue indicated by him; but what was remarkable, what revealed the real state of the movement was the absence of any spontaneous mass demonstrations like those which had taken place in the country at the least provocation during the last several years, the remnant of the Congress leadership consoled themselves and their rather disconcerted following with the argument that the Mahatma exhorted the people to remain absolutely non-violent on his arrest. But instances are not rare when such exhortations of the Mahatma, even his personal presence, could not stem the tide of mass action. The wave of mass revolt that swept the country following upon the Hartal (national strike) called during the Prince’s visit as well as in consequence of the slogan of civil disobedience, is still fresh in the memory. All remonstrations, biddings, and denunciations of the Mahatma were of no avail.
The removal of Gandhi marked the termination of the period in which the movement could be carried on with a vague, undefined program. It was possible formerly, because the socio-economic consciousness of the various social factors participating in the anti-British movement, had not been yet sufficiently clarified. Therefore all these incompatible, even antagonistic, elements could have the appearance of being united in a common political struggle. But the most prominent class line was revealed when in the Ahmedabad Congress, Gandhi set his face against the revolutionary action of the masses on one hand, and on the other declared the necessity of making common cause with the Moderates, that is, the political party which consciously advocated the economic and political aggrandizement of tire native capitalists and landlords. Since then the reshuffling of forces in the Indian national movement has been going on. The bourgeoisie is so much terrified that it has been of late openly declaring its hostility to the interests of the toiling masses. This attitude naturally does not make for the unity of the political anti-British movement and is not slow to produce pernicious results.
The Provincial Conferences
The various political tendencies inside the Congress organization, tendencies which have been released by the removal of the personality of Gandhi- too much respect for whom tied the hand and sealed the mouth of many a recalcitrant came into evidence in the various Provincial Conferences held in the latter part of April. All these Conferences (Bengal, Maharashtra, Central Provinces and Berar) with the exception of Punjab, which met during a veritable reign of terror telling particularly heavily upon the Sikh peasants (Akalis) were conspicuous by the presence of two tendencies equally actuated by bourgeois ideals and orientations. The powerful revolutionary forces, expressed through the workers’ and peasants movements, had very little access to the deliberation and resolutions of these conferences. Strikes, trade unions and peasant revolts were not given any place in the speeches and resolutions, except to denounce them and conjure them up as forces of anarchy threatening the existence of the British Government and the native propertied class alike (Speech of I.M. Sen Gupta as the Chairman of the Reception Committee of the Bengal Provincial Conference).
One of the two political tendencies is decidedly bourgeois and either openly or in thinly veiled language advocates a fusion of forces with the Moderates who stand for cooperation, or in other words, compromise with the imperialist overlord. The other is petty-bourgeois extremism utterly incapable of understanding the present situation, therefore heading towards an intellectual rut divorced from the pragmatic politics of the bourgeoisie on the one hand, and the dynamics of mass-energy on the other.
It is the latter tendency that has raised the voice of protest against Gandhism and attempts to drag the Congress out of the quagmire of metaphysical politics. In Maharashtra, Central Provinces, and Berar there has developed a strong Left Wing which demands the revision of the so-called “Constructive Program”. In the Conferences this new opposition found itself still in the minority, but succeeded in forcing the appointment of sub-committees in order to investigate the achievements and failures of the Congress as well as to suggest changes in the Congress Program if necessary such as:
- Swodeshi (indigenous machine-industry) instead of Charka and Khaddar;
- Organization of volunteers for physical exercise and social service;
- To send propagandists to foreign countries;
- Establish technical schools;
- Enter the Councils as Opposition.
Some of these sub-committees, specially that of Nagpur (Central Provinces), had made reports recommending total repudiation of the Ahmedabad and Bardoli resolutions; but the new program they suggest is no more revolutionary than the former. If the one was unpractical or metaphysical, the other is reformistic, in spite of its wordy extremism, which has absolutely no potentiality on account of lacking a social foundation. Consequently, this incipient Left-Wing opposition cannot do anything but fumble in the darkness of futile petty-bourgeois extremism.
Other Tendencies in the Movement
The secret terrorist groups, which never accepted the leadership of the Congress and which were almost exterminated by wholesale arrest during the war, are also appearing in the field. They have been gradually collecting their scattered forces since repression was somewhat relaxed after (the inauguration of the reforms, and on account of the fact that the attention of the Government was attracted towards the non-cooperation movement which involved the wide masses of people. These resuscitated remnants of the secret societies, however, still clung to the belief in their old tactics whose efficacy has been put to the test and could not pass the examination. All the revolutionary forces of the country having been involved in the Congress movement, no scope was left for these elements who, however, kept out of the Congress simply because they did not believe in the latter’s tactics, particular the faith in non-violence. But this aloofness has been broken lately and many of them have joined the Congress organizations individually although as a revolutionary tendency they insisted on maintaining their separate existence. This individual participation has gone so far that according to the latest information received, in the province of Bengal, where the secret societies had been the strongest, a majority of the local Congress organizations is controlled by ex-members of terrorist organizations. These people are in the Congress activities because they have been incapable of evolving by themselves a better or more effective method of struggle. They expected that something would come of the non-cooperation movement; but when non-cooperation was wrecked on the rock of non-violence, they could offer nothing constructive but simply point out that violence was needed. Now during this period of readjustment, these elements are showing signs of activity, which is, however, still far from what is suitable to the situation. Organizations are being formed for propaganda and education among the masses; but the propaganda and education aimed at by these organizations are not revolutionary, but actuated by reformist ideas fomented by despair. Anyhow, there is a search for new ideas, new methods of struggle which will be able to push the movement out of the rut it is now in. To bring about the union of these declassed intellectuals with the workers’ and peasants’ movement is the immediate task. There is a movement to go to the villages, but the idea behind this movement is wrong. This movement needs revolutionary impetus.
Various journals have come out embodying this new extra-Congress tendency. These journals are mostly written in vernacular languages and aim at combating some of the impossible tactics and metaphysical preoccupations of the Congress. Groups looking for new inspiration, new political horizon are being gathered around these ideological standards.
The Labor Movement
The purely bourgeois and to a certain extent reactionary policies of the Congress have had a harmful effect upon the working-class movement. The second All-lndia Trade Union Congress met two months before the National Congress assembled at Ahmedabad. As a mass demonstration, the Trade Union Congress was of much greater significance than the National Congress. But the relaxation of political enthusiasm was already to be noticed. The great demonstration with which the Trade Union Congress met was more of an economic than political character. The leadership was very questionable. But the National Congress in its great consternation over the countrywide mass upheaval failed or refused to take notice of this new tendency in the labor movement. The only way was to launch an action program which would include the fight for improving the immediate material condition of the working class. But the Ahmedabad Congress started on a path which led farther and farther from the workers and peasants. Thus the leadership of the most important revolutionary social factor was left at the mercy of opportunist politicians, petty-bourgeois reformers and government agents.
The Bengal Provincial Trade Union Congress, which met almost simultaneously with the Political Conference of the same district, showed that the trade unions and the labor movement as a whole had been almost completely divorced from the political movement and had come under the uncontested control of anti-revolutionary leadership. While the process of divorce of the Congress movement from the dynamic forces of revolution was thus revealed, the predominating tendency in the Bengal Provincial, as well as four other Provincial gatherings, was towards the Right, to join hands with the Moderates. The opposition of Left extremism was futile, because it was in no way connected with the forces of mass energy. There were small minorities which declared the necessity of going to the masses, but their voice was overwhelmed in the turmoil preparing the ground for a united front of the bourgeoisie, native and foreign.
In spite of this widening gulf Between the political movement and the economic struggle of the working class, the latter has not yet completely fallen under anti-revolutionary leadership, because the objective forces of revolution are still in operation. Most of the trade unions federated in the Trade Union Congress are boards of officers rather than working class organizations. These officers are invariably outsiders making capital of the labor movement, or government agents. They try to dictate how the workers should behave and organize, but are not yet able to curb the spontaneous, although largely unconscious revolt of the toiling masses. In many unions, a spirit of revolt against the “upper class” leaders is growing.
In short, the bourgeoisie has proved itself incapable, even unwilling to push the Indian movement ahead towards revolution. The petty-bourgeois extremism, which expects to gain very little by compromise with the imperialist exploiter, would like to go farther, but is unable to find and employ with resoluteness the suitable tactical weapon. The Congress, which has built up the skeleton of a nationwide organization, is thus left without a revolutionary leadership on the one hand, and is losing the support of the masses on the other. The element that can save the situation is yet very weak, but is not lacking. The development of this factor will prevent the split that is threatening the movement; it will keep the political movement for national liberation based on the revolutionary uprising of the masses, and will be able to push the unwilling bourgeoisie into the anti-imperialist struggle, thus utilizing the little revolutionary significance it possesses.
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1. See International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 51, p. 379.
SOURCE: From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 60, 21 July 1922, pp. 452–454.