November 5, 2012 Leave a comment
b)Were the events of 1947 and the year immediately preceding it ‘peaceful’? In that context was the independence struggle ‘peaceful’?
This could well be the most superfluous and most peripheral of all the questions surrounding 1947. And yet it is one of the most aggressively expressed of all. Human history in general is full of dramatic violence, political history in particular. When conflicts involve relations of power and wealth (ie who produces what and for who?) between people, struggle is never peaceful. When those fighting over the power and wealth are whole countries or whole social classes, wars break out. Here there is no question of peace in any regard. To understand conflicts about power and wealth we need to know the forces involved in the war and the methods used.
‘Peaceful’ methods relate to ‘violent’ methods in the same way as sparring in the boxing ring relates to throwing and landing punches. The aim is always to reduce an opponent to submission, and no one is under any illusions about this – in the boxing ring. In politics, however, lying about methods is part of the war, and if submission can be exacted by blackmail or threats without direct violence, and this approach can be successfully passed off as agreement and cooperation, the winners find themselves in a stronger position. “My peaceful negotiation — your violent aggression” has always been a hit number in media supporting any combatant. And such distortions are the stock in trade of diplomacy and domestic wheeling and dealing.
And in the case of India the violence and the propaganda have been proportionate to the size of the power and wealth at stake. The wealth produced by hundreds of millions of people is vast, as is the power it can fuel. Continental, in fact. No wonder European powers fought bitterly to control it and legitimize their seizure of it. And once England had seized it, no wonder it fought just as bitterly to keep it in its grasp. And lied as blatantly about the purpose and character of its rule. And no wonder the class interests that came to lead the revolt against the British made sure that the same lies were perpetuated during and after the colonial conflict. Only instead of God and the Queen, the lies were erected around Gandhi and Nehru. Instead of British financial and industrial capital, Indian landed capital came to hold the fort and repelled all competitors, only letting Indian industry and finance in on the game as they grew stronger. The hundreds of millions of Indians working daily to produce the wealth and thus the power of India were locked outside the fort, subject to harsh military control and forced to hand over their work to their rulers with nothing to show for it except a loin-cloth and an overcrowded village hut. The propaganda of the winning side, the Congress, showed Gandhi in the loin-cloth and hut. In reality Gandhi’s side was sitting in a golden banqueting hall stuffing itself with delicacies and surrounding itself with luxury.
So, ‘peace’ has little to do with the content of any struggle, let alone a revolutionary one involving historical socio-economic transformation. And it follows from this that simply being violent has nothing to do with revolution or social change. However, people with a clear understanding of history and politics are far less inclined to use passive conciliatory tactics (lyingly labelled ‘peaceful’ by ruling class propaganda) in the field of struggle. Revolutionaries use appropriate methods of struggle in exactly the same sober, considered way the leaders and general staffs of the forces opposed to them do, given that the foremost objective of a revolutionary is the destruction of the existing outworn mode of production (imperialist capitalism) and initiating the transformation to the mode of production that will supersede it (socialism). This is achieved by the conquest of state power, overthrowing the political leadership of the ruling classes and replacing it with the political rule of the revolutionary classes. Doing this is clearly impossible without the exertion of force by the revolutionary class against the ruling class. At least as crucial, if not even more important than the actual application of violence, is the permanent mobilization of class forces with the declared aim of taking power. In other words, the demonstrated capacity of the working class and the peasantry to back up its demands with action. The question of violence is reduced to one of empirical observation once force erupts in the case of violent aggression or repression by the ruling class, using its jealously guarded monopoly of military violence, which in turn gives rise to actions of defence and counter-attack by the oppressed class and its allies.
Now that we have a clearer view of the character of the change brought about by Independence and the character of revolutionary change as such, we can more fully understand the nature of the struggle for Indian independence and see how far the ‘peaceful’ epithet of the independence struggle is justified. In other words, we are in a position to see through the smoke screens and mystifications of the Gandhi myth.
The historical background
Contrary to the propaganda promoted by the Indian state, the independence struggle was neither peaceful nor gradual, and it was most definitely not isolated from world events. It was a long-lasting process, beginning in many ways with the sepoy rebellion of 1857. Marx noted that in the hundred years of the rule of the East India company, India was opened up to the full force of world capitalism. A brutal and far reaching process of primitive capitalist accumulation took place which resulted in the wholesale economic destruction of India’s pre-capitalist industries. The destruction of Bengal’s textile industry is just one example. Though there was an undisputed drainage of wealth from India to Britain, this period also saw the beginnings of a capitalist class and capitalist society in India, as well as the stirrings of a consciousness which was decidedly post feudal. The destruction of India’s indigenous economy and the aggressive imposition of an unequal and exploitative capitalist rule created the conditions for the rebellion of 1857, which was far more than just a ‘sepoy mutiny’.
Every stage of the mutiny was violent. British families were attacked, British soldiers were killed. Political and administrative representatives of the British were targeted and the economic interests of the East India Company were in jeopardy. Britain clearly risked losing its holdings in India, and would certainly have done so if it wasn’t for certain fatal weaknesses in the rebellion of 1857. Chief of these was the reactionary leadership given by the remnants of India’s pre-capitalist political elite, the rajahs of the vassal princely states of India and the last emperor of the decrepit Mughal empire, also a vassal of the English. The underdeveloped consciousness of the sepoys themselves gave free rein to the reactionary leadership which completely failed to harness or develop the budding revolutionary process in 1857. Religion was a culprit in this, too, of course, as it reinforced the reactionary feudal leadership emerging from the disenfranchised section of the pre-capitalist elite. Many have naturally but quite mistakenly equated the movement with its leadership, a malaise all too common in modern Indian thought that leads to entirely erroneous conclusions as to its character.
The late 19th century context
The aftermath of the rebellion saw the strengthening of British rule over the subcontinent and the emergence of a stronger Indian capitalist class from the merchants and early industrialists. In particular, the textile and ship-building industries saw dramatic growth driven by a slew of infrastructural investments made by the British to secure British dominance in the subcontinent. The rebellion also gave rise to a new enlightened political movement led by an emerging Indian intelligentsia influenced strongly by developments in Europe and America. A major trend which developed almost instantly after 1857 was social reform. Here too bourgeois liberal European and American ideas found popularity as they gave the pioneers of social reform a theoretical base from which to attack the pre-capitalist social evils prevalent in India.
The main goals were to break the stranglehold of the priestly castes on social thought in India and to destroy caste-based divisions, but modernization of education and women’s liberation were important as well. This social reform movement was not violent in any way but it did inspire armed insurgent movements later. The indigo rebellion provides another interesting example of political movements around this period. A political link developed between the rising urban bourgeoisie in Calcutta and the mobilizations of the peasantry in Bengal against the economic depradations of the indigo cultivators which led to the success of the rebellion. The rebellion was violent and took place just two years after the 1857 mutiny.
While bourgeois liberalism gave the theoretical tools, French anarchism influenced methods of protest and agitation, particularly among the more radical bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leadership. Anarchism’s influence was most overt in the methods of mobilization and terrorism used by the Bengali nationalists before and during the Swadeshi movement. The tradition of bomb-making for instance was copied from the French anarchists. Elsewhere, Vasudev Balwant Phadke adopted armed tactics to oppose British imperialism, though his ideology was rooted in Maharashtra. What was common to these trends of ‘revolutionary violence’ in both Bengal and Maharashtra, was the agenda of national liberation from the yoke of the British and the need for social change with the abolition of casteism as a major bourgeois-democratic goal. These trends show that with the development of capitalist rule over India, the ideas of capitalist Europe penetrated the intelligentsia of India, and none of these ideas had non-violence as a core principle. This access of terrorist violence was of course only a reaction to the structural and political violence inflicted by the British Imperialists on the people of the subcontinent.
Besides these radical and ‘violent’ sections of the bourgeoisie, there was a conciliatory tendency as well. They were not necessarily pacifist per se, but believed in taking a pacifist approach towards the British. This took the form of the tactics of prayer and petition which were the hallmark of the moderates of the Congress party (led by founding Brahmin members like Surendranath Bannerjee and Mahadeo Govinda Ranade). This section of the bourgeoisie did not believe in conflict with the British imperialists, seeking only to increase their stake as loyal subordinates of the empire in India. There were ample rewards for such ‘loyalty’ in the form of political favours (like knighthood) and commercial opportunities(e.g. support to the Tatas). The new Indian bourgeoisie was being crafted from among these lick-spittle servants of the Raj, and from them the future rulers of the Indian republic would spring.
The conflict between radicals and moderates over the methods and aims of the independence struggle existed from the start of the Congress party, but each leap in mobilization saw the fissure deepen. Interestingly, it only grew deeper with the strengthening of the workers movement across the world and reached a peak with the emergence of the communist movement in Europe and Asia. As a result the radical section became even more radicalized and increasingly so with the absorption of radicalized petty bourgeois elements into the Congress party. The bourgeoisie was faced with the constant challenge of winning over the classes of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie to its programme, which forced it to keep up with the times. What was common however, between both the radical and moderate sections of the Congress party and within the larger spectrum of Indian bourgeois politics, was the resort to methods of petition and propaganda, the question of violence or non-violence was considered immaterial question in this regard. The radicals held more consistently to the bourgeois-democratic agenda than the moderates, but neither embraced complete independence as a goal till they were given the proverbial kick up the backside by revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh.
The early 20th century context
No representatives of the Indian bourgeoisie, whether ‘revolutionary’ or mainstream, had succeeded in reaching beyond their immediate class and caste boundaries to win over the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie. At the same time, the British too were beginning to realize that the political movement created by a tiny ‘enlightened’ middle class wasn’t much use as a safety valve for the larger populace. With the threat of world revolution radiating from the Soviet Union, it became vital for the British to utilize the Congress party to absorb discontent on a massive scale. And lo! We witness the rise of Gandhi and his grand entry into Indian politics as a leader of the Congress Party. It is no coincidence that Gandhi and his ‘non-violence’ based mass mobilizations came on the scene at the same time that the Indian Communist party was founded in the Soviet Union. The emergence of Gandhi was a crowning achievement of the politics of the moderates, namely conciliation with British imperialism, their surface hostility to civil disobedience notwithstanding.
Gandhi was able to pacify the populace to some extent, and more importantly he was able to neutralize the ‘troublesome’ middle class intelligentsia who advocated tactics of individual terrorism and insurgency. Nevertheless, even Gandhi’s allegedly ‘peaceful’ mass methods exploded into violence as in the Chauri Chaura incident during his non-cooperation movement. But not even within his own movement could Gandhi fully douse the raging fire of revolution in the hearts of the Indian poor. In the 1930s there was a second round of armed insurgency against British rule, including the Chittagong uprising (modelled on the Irish Easter uprising of 1916 ). A significantly new characteristic of the uprising was its leadership and ideology. The movement was inspired by socialist ideals and followed left-wing leadership. It failed, however, due to the absence of mass mobilization. Tactics of individual terror and isolated insurgency have time and again led to failure in Indian history.
The failure to develop a strong armed movement against British rule, and the conciliatory attitude of the new moderates of the Congress led left petty-bourgeois radicals like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to break new ground in Indian politics and build an army of liberation beyond the reach of the British imperialists, despite their roots in the Congress movement. Inspiration from the massive revolutionary anti-imperialist mobilization in China and the anti-capitalist, anti-landlord socio-economic model of the Soviet Union influenced the development of the Indian National Army (INA) movement under Subhash Chandra Bose. He was made to pay dearly for his radical views, however, which tended naturally towards socialist revolution in India and Asia, first by expulsion from the Congress party, and ultimately by betrayal at the hands of the Congress leaders Nehru, Gandhi and Patel.
The emergence of the Indian working class
The emergent communist movement in India was far from the work of Stalinists alone, and by 1935 a combative Bolshevik-Leninist current emerged as well, following the development of the international Left Opposition and the collapse of the Third International. Of course, the Indian bourgeoisie was also responsible for this new movement, as it had almost exhausted its progressive capabilities, and as it grew stronger and more dominant it became less and less interested in or capable of satisfying the overarching needs of the Indian populace. Keeping pace with the rise of the bourgeoisie was the emergence of a strong and organized proletariat in India. The social impact of this change was profound. For the first time in Indian history, there was active intervention by the working class in the political affairs of modern India, which had hitherto been dominated by the big bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeois middle classes. Since the former were more and more thoroughly integrated with British finance capital and the latter were too fragmented and historically hamstrung, they could not lead the peasantry towards consummating the bourgeois revolution. And so, by the logic of history, the tasks of this democratic revolution fell chiefly on the shoulders of the proletariat to fulfil as part of its socialist revolution. The permanent revolution in India was thus being fostered by its own imperialist enemies and their national agents. And as a concrete expression of this the BLPI was formed.
At the same time, the petty bourgeoisie grew more radicalized. Having experimented with liberalism and nationalism, this constricted section of Indian society (which became even worse off after the great depression of the 1930s) turned hard to the left and adopted socialist ideas. This was accompanied by a split between the progressive left-wing petty-bourgeoisie and the reactionary right-wing petty bourgeoisie who sought to create a violent ultra-right movement in India along the lines of Italian fascism. Surya Sen, the leader of the Chittagong uprising of 1930, and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose represented the progressive wing of the petty-bourgeoisie in India, while Golwalkar and Jinnah represented petty-bourgeois reaction.
The Quit India movement mobilized the most progressive sections of the petty-bourgeoisie against Britain at a time of world war, and shook the balance of power in the subcontinent. It saw the overthrow of British rule in parts of the country and imposed self-rule. Satara and Tamluk jatiyo sarkars are the most notable examples of parallel governments which threw off the British yoke. The uprising was in every way violent and the British response to it was completely ruthless. The open and violent character of the uprising, however, was ignited by the arrest of the main leadership of the Congress party including Gandhi, removing the only effective safety valve for swelling popular rage. At around the same time, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose formed his Indian National Army with soldiers who defected from the British Indian army and plantation workers in south-east Asia who volunteered for the INA. This force of workers and peasants marched to the Indian frontier through Burma, assisted by the Japanese Imperial army and navy. Strategic imperatives forced Britain to crush the uprising and resurrect the Congress party and Gandhi, as this was the only way it could reinforce its decaying rule over India, in which the genocidal Bengal famine was symptomatic. But the flame of 1942 refused to die, and a much more powerful movement would emerge immediately after the war in the naval mutiny and uprising of 1946.
These revolutionary developments in India, however, jeopardized the existence of the Indian bourgeoisie as a class. Since India was a ‘significant’ colony of the empire, i.e. because the mother country was so desperately dependent on it, it was to some extent in a position to stake its own claim within the framework of British imperialism, and the Indian bourgeoisie sought to take the fullest advantage of this. As such India acted more like a sub-metropolis than a pure colony in its relations with British capital, especially when it was used to enslave other colonies of the empire as a colonial gendarme. The Indian bourgeoisie and in particular the big bourgeoisie was ready to content itself with becoming a major if still subordinate partner in British imperialism, in this the Indian bourgeoisie found itself allied yet antagonistic to the British bourgeois. But such a plan would fail completely if the revolutionary forces in India fought for and achieved their historically just objectives of national, social and economic revolution. The events of 1942 and its later consequences taught the British the importance of the Indian bourgeoisie in ruling India, not just as a colony or dominion, but as a capitalist state as such. They became bitterly aware that to preserve at least a semblance of British presence in South Asia they would be compelled to make massive concessions to this class.
By 1946, the conflicts between a dirigiste big bourgeoisie hungry for state power and control, and the radical forces of Marxist revolutionaries, and left petty-bourgeois radicals like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose came out into the open. The naval mutiny and its attendant rural uprisings and general strike revealed very clearly where the ‘non-violent’ conciliatory bourgeois forces led by Gandhi and Nehru stood in relation to the Indian revolution. They hated it. They fully supported and actively connived with the British to destroy the uprising, persuading the mutineers of the Royal Indian Navy to lay down their arms before the British troops only to be massacred by their cannons.
But crushing the mutiny itself would not be enough. Having seen the power of the class in action, the Indian bourgeoisie and its British benefactors were constrained to hatch a much more violent and much more devastating plan to enable a continued imperialist presence in South Asia and ensure that the bourgeoisie would remain in power in a capitalist state. The Indian bourgeoisie had by now ambitions which went beyond cutting a niche for itself within the framework of the British empire, it demanded a sphere of its own. For its part the British promised the big Indian bourgeoisie the lion’s share of its empire in India, while placating the smaller Muslim section of the Indian bourgeoisie with a quarter of whatever remained. Partition was supported by the British and Indian bourgeoisies to cripple and break the revolutionary potential of the entire subcontinental working class and peasantry. This was necessary for the Indian bourgeoisie to come to power and stay there unchallenged in South Asia. Additionally, derailing the Indian revolution helped guarantee and prolong the deformity of the Chinese revolution and preserved South Asia as a counter-revolutionary bulwark against an Asian continent undergoing revolutionary transformations from Russia to Indo-China.
Thus the Indian bourgeoisie came to power on the blood-soaked backs of the working class and peasantry. This gory rise to power could only be passed off most shamefully as being ‘peaceful’ because arms were turned inward among the ranks of the oppressed rather than out against the oppressors. The uprising of 1946 was echoed by the partition riots of the same year. Unsurprisingly, Congress party workers were enthusiastic participants in the bloodshed which took place in that year. The leaders of the Muslim League were more than eager to become a junior partner in this plot to destroy the Indian revolution, since they would get its own country to rule and could thus aspire to sovereign power like their bigger counterparts in the Congress party.
Upon usurping power in this way, the Indian bourgeoisie led by the Congress party did their utmost to steal all the credit for the entire freedom movement. In this way they canonized ‘non-violence’ as the weapon which supposedly brought down the British empire from Palestine to Malacca. Nothing could be further from the truth!
‘Non-violence’ in Indian history is just a tool in the hands of the British Imperialists to pacify the Indian masses and control them, from the earliest moderates right down to the conciliators under Gandhi and Nehru.
Our conclusion is that the independence movement as a whole was not peaceful, and nor were the culminating events of 1946-47 in any way peaceful !
It is true that the violence which erupted during the partition was not aimed against the British, but against the working class and peasantry, with the undeclared aim of destroying the Indian revolution. But this only masks the question of power, and leaves unanswered the critical question of who came to power and how. In 1947, the Indian bourgeoisie in collaboration with British Imperialism, broke the backs of the Indian workers and peasants, and usurped power from their erstwhile British masters. This was done after using the force of the peasantry as a battering ram against the British to demand concessions for themselves. In this the Indian bourgeois found itself antagonistic but still allied with the indian people. The British were sufficiently weakened to concede a huge portion of their empire in India to the rising Indian bourgeoisie and its preferred political representatives in the Congress party. But not before handing over a sizeable portion of the subcontinent to the smaller Muslim League bourgeoisie.
Later on the Indian peasantry and workers won some concessions, but the tasks of the social revolution in India were thrown back by decades as the bourgeoisie consolidated its rule with the connivance of British and world imperialism. India under the Congress, would later on emerge in its own right as a powerful imperialist force in Asia and more recently in Africa, and continue and extend the role it mastered in 1947 as a major agent of democratic reaction on the world stage. The BJP, an offshoot of the Congress, brought no change but merely continued this reactionary agenda in the 5 years that it was in power.