MN Roy

On Trade Unionism

Date: November 20, 1922
Published: Political Letters The Vanguard Bookshop, Zurich, 1924
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Mike B.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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.


Dear Comrade...

As you have noticed, “The Vanguard” is a purely Indian paper devoted to the cause of Indian independence; it is the organ of that section of the Indian Movement which believes that India should be free not for the aggrandisement of native capitalists, but for the benefit of the workers and peasants of India, and that she cannot be free without the conscious and concerted action of the toiling masses. We who are forced to live in exile, have been watching with great interest the steady development, of this tendency in the Indian movement, even within the ranks of the Indian National Congress, which is predominantly a middle-class organization without much understanding of the socio-economic needs and conditions of the working-class. We strive to help the development of this tendency.

We know that the struggle of the working masses in India, as well as in all other lands, is essentially economic and social; the immediate concern of the exploited workers and pauperized peasantry is the amelioration of their unbearable economic condition, — their ultimate goal is social emancipation from all class rule. But neither of these two objects, — the immediate or the ultimate one — can be realized unless the entire Indian people can enjoy a free national existence which will enable them to enter into the healthy atmosphere of economic progress making inevitably for the social revolution. Therefore, the Indian working-class cannot be indifferent to the political struggle for national independence. It must participate actively in it as the first stage of the great social struggle in which it is involved, and which it must carry to a successful end in course of time.

On account of the abnormal condition in which India was forced to stagnate during the last hundred and fifty years, it has become impossible that our national freedom will be achieved mainly through the efforts and under the leadership of the middle-class. The interests of the bourgeoisie, including the landowning class, of contemporary India, although jeopardised, are not entirely antagonistic to those of the Imperial ruling class. The debacle of the Moderates and the imminent swing of the Congress towards the Right prove the correctness of this social theory. Imperialism of today is more under the control of Finance Capital than of the Manufacturing interests. The colonial working-masses have been practically proletarianized by the exploitation of Imperialist. Capital; therefore it is inevitable that they will be drawn more and more into the orbit of the world-wide revolt of the exploited classes. Under these circumstances, the Imperialist ruling-class will find a docile hand-maid in the colonial bourgeoisie, if the industrial and commercial aspirations of the latter are not completely suppressed. This possible alliance of the two otherwise antagonistic interests makes for the so-called “New Era” in the subject countries — a New Era begun in India for example with the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms. This New Era, expressed in the terms of an Irish “Free State”, or an “Independent” Egypt, or a “Dominionized” India, is calculated to break down the unity of the National Struggle of the subject peoples by buying up the loyalty and support of the propertied upper-classes. The Extremism of the lower middle-class, despite the complete pauperization of the latter, will never amount to anything unless it is reinforced by the dynamically revolutionary energy of the broad masses. Lower middle-class Extremism, cured of all metaphysical abstractions, must assume the leadership of the great mass-upheaval which is the backbone of the Indian Movement. The Indian National Congress, in order to survive the imminent betrayal of the present leaders, must lead the struggle ahead under the banner, not of petty-bourgeois reactionary Pacifism but of Revolutionary Nationalism.

So, the task before the Trade Union Congress is not Reform, but Revolution. It is not conservative unionism, based upon the bankrupt theory of “Collective Bargaining , but Revolutionary Mass Action involving the pauperized peasantry as well as the city and rural wage-earners, who must be organized and led by those who want to see Free India enter upon a period of social progress. Terrified by the spontaneous outburst of mass-energy, the middle-class extremists are ordering a retreat which has turned into a disorderly rout. It is necessary to reassure them; to show them the fountain-head of national energy; to tell them to make common cause with the working-masses, not to use them as pawns in the fight, but to recognize them as the heart and soul of it. Our cry is “Not the masses for Revolution, but Revolution for the masses”. Those who think that the economic and social condition of the Indian working-class can be appreciably improved before India has realised political independence, are mistaken. To lead the working-class, which is in a state of dynamic revolt, towards Reformism, is to help perpetuate the exploitation of Imperialist Capital. The Trade Union Congress, in order to be able to execute the historic task it has undertaken, must free itself from the leadership which believes in piece-meal reform. Such leadership is, consciously or unconsciously, hostile to the interests of the working-class.

To bring about this inevitable union of the two radically revolutionary forces under the banner of National Independence and Social Progress is the task undertaken by us. We believe that you are fighting for the same object. Therefore, let us work together.

November 20, 1922.


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