1930s >> 1935 >> no-366-february-1935

The Coming Struggle in India

Eastern Workers Ensnared

Anyone who hopes to understand the so-called “Indian problem” by reading the statements of the mouthpieces of the various British and Indian interests is certain to be disappointed. Never was any question so fogged and obscured by half-truths, conventional lies and appeals to imaginary principles. The overshadowing lie is that it is a non-economic, “Nationalist” question fought by Britain on the one side and India on the other. That conception is a figment of the imagination, of the greatest convenience, however, to those on the one side and the other who fear more than anything else that the truth should become widely known.

That “India” is oppressed by “Britain,” is a fiction, just as it is a fiction that “Britain” is seeking disinterestedly to solve a problem for “India.” It is a fiction because neither on the one side nor on the other have the great mass of the population any interest at stake that matters; nor have they understanding of what the issues really are. The issues can be sketched in a few words. British capitalists have vast sums invested in India, variously estimated to amount to a stupendous total of somewhere between £500- and £1,000-millions.

British exporters, prior to the depression, were selling nearly £80-millions of goods a year in the Indian market; far more than they sold to any other country in the world. British shipping, British sea and air power, British capitalist interests in countries near and beyond India, all these direct and indirect capitalist interests are bound up with the maintenance of British control in India. On the British side, therefore, the Indian problem is a capitalist problem; not a problem of the British workers, but of those who control the Government in Great Britain – the British ruling class.

What of the other side? There, too, it is a problem of the ruling class, not of the workers and peasants, who are the great majority of the population. It is not an Indian problem, but a problem of the rich and powerful Indian princes, of the no less wealthy lords of land, lords of cotton, lords of iron and steel, and of the rest of the ruling class and their hangers-on.

Are the British ruling class self-seeking, tyrannical, callous of the interests of those whom they exploit, and prepared to use every weapon of force and cunning in defence of their class privilege? So are the Indian! Every crime against the British working class perpetrated in the past and present of British capitalism is paralleled in India by the hereditary princes and by the Indian capitalists, who prate of unity in the common cause of Indian freedom. They want freedom from the British overlordship (or rather, a convenient relaxation of it – they have no wish to lose the use of British arms against their own discontented fellow Indians) because they want a larger share in the proceeds of the exploitation of the Indian workers. They do not resent the legal robbery of the Indian masses, but they do resent the flow of that wealth so largely to British investors. They are now to get a part of what they sought when they poured out money like water, stirring up the so-called nationalist agitation. The tie is to be relaxed. India is to have a greater measure of what is called “self-government,” that is to say, government by the Indian ruling class, for the Indian ruling class, but in the name of the Indian masses.

The Constitutional Reforms

The reforms now being discussed by the British Parliament are briefly as follows:

Under the existing constitution of India, the central government is in the hands of officials controlled by the British Government in London. In future, when the new proposals become law, the Central Government will be responsible to a Federal All-India Legislature representing both the provinces of British India and the States ruled over by the Indian princes. The Central Government will have wide powers, but national defence, foreign relations and ecclesiastical affairs will still be in the hands of the Governor-General; that is, of the British Government.

In addition to the Central Government of India there will be provincial governments responsible to provincial assemblies. Both at the centre and in the provinces, the representatives of the British Government, i.e., the Governor-General and the Provincial Governors, will have special powers of interference and veto in certain eventualities.

The basis of election of the Federal All-India Legislature is not a direct democratic vote of the population, but an indirect system under which the provincial assemblies and the Indian States (i.e., the princes) send representatives to the Federal Legislature.

The provincial assemblies are to be directly elected, but the franchise is to be a restricted one. About 14 per cent of the population will have votes, which may be compared with over 50 per cent (representing practically full adult suffrage) in Great Britain. By this restriction, and by the indirect method of electing the Central Legislature, the large measure of power which the reforms will provide will be safely concentrated in the hands of India’s property-owning class, to the very large exclusion of the propertyless This, it is important to notice, was done in accordance with the views of Gandhi and other influential circles in the Indian Nationalist Movement. Gandhi has never made any secret of his unbending opposition to Socialism and his determination to resist any movement for dispossessing the princes or the Indian capitalists. At the Round Table Conference in London, in 1932, and on many other occasions, he opposed a full adult franchise and direct elections, and defended the property rights of the privileged class. How could he, as leader of the movement, do otherwise? Would the textile millionaires who financed his campaign have allowed him to endanger their position by allowing the dispossessed Indian masses to come into their heritage? One wealthy individual alone gave Gandhi £150,000 to finance his present campaign in the villages (Daily Herald, November 3rd, 1934). In India, no less than in England, those who pay the piper call the tune.

Safeguards for British Capitalists

If the Indian princes and capitalists were vehemently opposed to enfranchising those on whose backs they live, the “safeguards” imposed by the British capitalists in this bargain with their Indian counterparts are no less instructive. They keep a tight hand on the armed forces of the Central Government and the question of foreign relations. They have seen to it that the Indian Government shall be precluded from taking discriminatory measures designed to penalise the Indian trading interests of British capitalists; and the consent of the British Government (via the Governor-General) is required in any matters affecting the proposed Reserve Bank of India, the coinage, or the Indian Railways.

In short, there has been a blessed compromise. British capitalist investments, trade, and Empire interests are reasonably safeguarded without any undue sacrifice. Indian capitalists are to gain certain powers, by means of which their interest will be promoted, and both together will combine to see that the basis of this whole structure of exploitation is not disturbed. Rent, interest and profit shall be secure in India as in England.

There is, however, inevitably and fortunately, a nigger in this woodpile, in the shape of movements of the Indian workers themselves. With one struggle taking on a modified form, India will eventually enter more clearly on another, which will not end until Socialism holds sway there and in all lands. At present, however, such movements are in their infancy.

Tragic Indian “Socialism”

With the growing industrialisation of India, trade unions have taken root, and with them the beginnings of political organisations having professedly working-class objects. Unfortunately, instead of learning from the mistakes of workers in European countries, the Indian workers are blindly following in the same path. Labour parties and parties calling themselves Socialist are being formed, committed from the outset to all the tragic futilities of the European “Labour” parties. One such party is the “All-India Congress Socialist Party,” formed last May. (An earlier attempt was criticised in these columns in July, 1932.) The Indian “Congress,” from which the new party takes its name, is the central Indian Nationalist organisation, which, under Gandhi’s leadership, has fought the battle of the Indian capitalist class behind the camouflage of “independence from British rule.” The new party is a constituent part of Congress, accepts its aims and objects, subscribes to its nationalistic (and therefore anti-Socialist, anti-working-class) doctrines, and fights elections under its banner and on its programme.

True, the new party professes to be Socialist, although it has so far not attempted to embody its aims and methods in a Declaration of Principles. True, it admits that Congress, “as it is constituted, will not accept Socialism to-day” (see Congress Socialist, Calcutta, September 29th, 1934). But having said this, the party organ goes on to enunciate the self-same delusion which enabled almost every European “Labour” party to exploit the name Socialism while betraying everything that Socialism stands for. Thus we are told that the Congress Socialist Party is going to “convert the Congress to the Socialist viewpoint” – they might as well try to convert the British ruling class. They effectually relegate Socialism to the dim and distant future with the phrase that while Socialism “is the permanent aim . . . and has to be kept constantly in view,” there are “certain secondary aims which, at the moment, assume all importance.”

These aims are: “Development of the anti-Imperialist struggle through the Congress,” organisation of peasants and workers’ unions, etc. Readers will not, perhaps, be surprised, knowing the ways of the compromiser, to learn that these anti-Socialist proposals are put forward under a label of Marxism. Our reply is that it is the duty of a Socialist Party always and everywhere to fight for Socialism, not some day, but now.

There is no need for us to mince matters, or obscure our meaning through lack of bluntness. Those who are putting over this Congress Socialist Party, even if they are, many of them, quite sincerely muddle-headed and inexperienced at present, are doing a lasting disservice to the Socialist movement. They are perpetrating a fraud. They are acting as decoys, whether ambitious and calculating or merely innocent and misguided. They are shepherding the unfortunate Indian workers and peasants into the ranks of the nakedly capitalist Congress, just where the Indian capitalists want to have them. They are glossing over the real struggle, the struggle between the privileged and the exploited, and the struggle between Capitalism and Socialism, and bolstering up the lying, war-inciting pretence of a nationalist struggle between India and Britain. That their views on some of the aims and methods of a Socialist party should be confused is perhaps excusable, but there is and can be no justification for those who proclaim themselves Socialist and at the same time allaying themselves with the capitalist class.

The most obvious and elementary requirement of a Socialist party is that it be built on a purely Socialist basis and be independent. From that there can be no departure, no “special occasions.” Any party, whether it be the Congress Socialist Party in India, the Social-Democrats in Germany, or the Labour Party in Great Britain, which allies itself with capitalist parties or supports capitalist Governments, places itself by that act alone, outside the pale as far as Socialism is concerned. This is as true of war-time as it is of peace-time. The S.P.G.B. and its companion parties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and U.S.A. can make the boast that never, on any occasion, have they betrayed this or any other Socialist principle. We are prepared to join hands with, and offer a comradely welcome to, all who declare their allegiance to International Socialism. We are not prepared to associate in any way with those who ally themselves with the enemies of Socialism and of the working class.

Now is the time for those in India who really desire Socialism to strike a blow for it by preparing the way for the genuine Socialist Party of India, which has yet to be formed.

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