MN Roy

The Indian Bourgeoisie and the National Revolution

Date: March 1929
Published: Labour Monthly, Vpp.163-170
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Mike B.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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 speech of the British Viceroy in the Indian Legislative Assembly on January 28 indicated how imperialism plans to meet the situation in India. Evidently imperialism has not failed to notice the radicalisation of the Nationalist Movement, and to focus its attention on the force causing this radicalisation. Imperialism recognises its most dangerous and determined enemy in the working class. Its tactics in the present situation, as hinted by the Viceroy, are to point out to the Nationalist bourgeoisie the dangerousness of the situation, and ask their co-operation in meeting the common danger. The Viceroy was encouraged to put forth this policy of counter-revolutionary united front by the attitude of the Nationalist bourgeoisie who arc positively alarmed by the situation, and frankly express their disapproval of any revolutionary move¬ment. The following quotations illustrate the situation.

Commenting upon the "critical situation in the country" as indicated by the events of the last twelve months, and by the Congress and Conferences during the closing week of the year, Bepin Chandra Pal writes:—

It is no longer possible to describe the Congress as a demonstration of mere middle class discontent.... It can no longer be said that the educated classes in India have no backing in their political struggle from the masses of the people.... Indeed, it is at least doubtful whether the lead comes at all from the educated leaders or whether these leaders are not more or less helpless instruments in the hand of the awakened multitudes. Every one of the Congress leaders feels that his position in the movement entirely depends upon the favour of the crowd. No leader to-day dares to follow the lead of his reason or conscience, not even the Mahatma (Gandhi). Yet in 1920 Gandhi’s word was law to the multitudes.... The Leviathan has commenced to move....

This was demonstrated by the invasion of the Congress by twenty thousand labourers. This was verification of the adage, "coming events cast their shadows before." ... On one of the banners of this procession of working men was inscribed "Long Live Independent Socialist Republic of India." ... The time cannot be very far when the working classes, once aroused to the sense of their power to coerce the government of the country, will refuse to be exploited by the middle-class politicians; "Red" leaders will rise from among them who will have no respect for any law or order either economic, political or moral.

Pal presents this remarkably true and well-drawn picture of the situation not as something to be welcomed. He draws it as a warning not only to the Nationalist bourgeoisie, but also to the petty bourgeois radicals who unconsciously are riding on the crest of the rising tide of revolution. An ex-Jacobin himself, Pal warns the Indian Jacobins not to play with fire. He reminds them what they are, and explains to them the dangerousness of the game they are playing. He writes:—

Neither the Congress leaders nor the Moslem leaders in their Khilafat Conference or their League, much less the leaders of the Hindu Mabasabha, will bring about a revolution. Some of them may talk of Civil-disobedience and non-payment of taxes; but none of them is made of the stuff that creates revolutions... Yet all these people have been working for revolution, which, if and when it bursts, will make them its first victims. Once popular passion is roused by them for their purpose, neither God nor man will be able to keep the angry multitudes non-violent.

Having pointed out the dangerous potentiality of the situation, Pal, who is the foremost ideologist of bourgeois Nationalism, appeals for a counter-revolutionary united front of all who would save India from the horrors of class struggle. He continues:—

And let the Government know that should there be a revolutionary outburst under present conditions, they will not find it possible to grapple with it as easily as they grappled with a peaceful upheaval ten years ago. It behoves, therefore, both Indian and imperial states¬manship to take counsel together without delay, and find a way out of the crisis ... The proceedings of the Congress and other gatherings of the last Christmas week in Calcutta offer a serious warning to both Indian and British statesmanship to settle their conflicts before it is too late, and the future completely passes out of their hands.

This is not a solitary voice. Pal, a clever and courageous political thinker as he is, only expresses the sentiments of the entire class he represents, frankly and logically. The objective importance of these views as indicating the role of the bourgeoisie in the national revolution is fully appreciated when the history of the man expressing them is known. A quarter of a century ago Pal was the leader of the Radical Left Wing of the Nationalist Movement. At that time he occupied in the country a place analogous to that recently occupied by Gandhi. It was partially under his leadership that the National Congress, a quarter of a century ago, broke away from the monopoly of the Indian disciples of imperialist Liberalism. Pal can be called the father of Indian Jacobinism, though it is long since he has betrayed his child. Indeed, he was a revolutionary when the Indian Nationalist bourgeoisie was still a revolutionary class. In view of these facts, Pal’s views are particularly indicative.

But Pal is not alone. Similar views are expressed by an ever-growing number of spokesmen of the Nationalist bourgeoisie. These views increase in volume and clearness in proportion as the revolutionary forces assert themselves on the situation — in proportion as the working class appears on the political scene as an independent and dominant factor of the situation. The Indian Liberal Federation represents that section of the Nationalist bourgeoisie which broke away from the Congress when this, in 1920, adopted the tactics of non-co-operation with the British Government. It represents heavy industrial, trading and landowning interests. Last year, a considerable section of the Liberal Federation modified its attitude of co-operation with the Government, and joined the movement for boycotting the Simon Commission. In the Annual Conference of the Liberal Federation, which met at the same time as the National Congress, the. President, Chimanlal Setalvad, devoted a large part of his speech to indicating the "right way to meet the impatient idealists and to prevent the spread of Communist and Socialist ideas in India." Among other things he said:—

We are now passing through very momentous and anxious times, and it must be remembered by all those who are interested in the welfare of this country — and I include in that description not only ourselves, but also the British Government who in the wisdom of Providence have been brought into partnership with us — that the time through which India is now passing is really very anxious. A mentality is growing which is absolutely impatient with the present state of things and which, if not guided in the proper channel, will swallow everything. The Communistic ideas and Socialism are the coming menace. If that mentality grows it will swallow Dominion Status, it will swallow independence, it will swallow the present structure of society ... The only way of preventing the spread of Socialism and Communism is for the authorities (British) to take a bold step and to concede at once what we have been asking for, namely, Dominion Status.

We of the Liberal faith have served the country all these years, and value and cherish British connection, and have stood by the govern¬ment believing that British connection is good for both the countries. If our moderate counsels are not heeded, there are very troublesome times ahead with the growing discontent against the Government and the present order of society.

The implication of this speech cannot be missed. The Indian bourgeoisie offer imperialism their willing co-operation to combat the common enemy. The counter-revolutionary sentiment of the Nationalist bourgeoisie is evident. Only they have no power to give practical expression to this sentiment. Therefore, they appeal to the imperialist overlords for some political power which they would wield for suppressing not only the working class but also the national revolution. There is a favourable response to this appeal. While it is out of the question that full Dominion Status will be granted in the immediate future, it is practically certain that the native bourgeoisie will be given considerable power in the provincial government. This will very likely include the administration of police by Indian ministers. Even a large section of the British residents in India have recommended this measure. The object is to commandeer the services of the Nationalist bourgeoisie in the counter-revolutionary combat against the working class and any other revolutionary movement.

The Leader, an organ of the Liberal Federation, commented on the speech quoted above as follows:—

Communism and other undesirable forms of extremism are the result of the policy of economic exploitation and racial domination. Steps should be taken to stop the exploitation and misleading of the masses for revolutionary purpose ... The Liberals are opposed to revolutionary political methods. They have made it absolutely clear that they are not supporters of Communism. They are convinced that violence cannot solve any problem ... Repressive policy will only aggravate political distemper, promote the purpose of the revolu¬tionaries and destroy whatever influence the friends of British connection and lovers of peace have in the country, and let loose anarchy.

The journal further writes in the same article:—

Among the friends of the British we count Mahatma Gandhi and Pundit Motilal Nehru. We pray most fervently that British statesmen may in time realise the gravity of the situation, and by large-hearted and courageous statesmanship retrieve it before it is too late.

It should be noticed that the spokesmen of the bourgeoisie use Communism and other forms of extremism, by which they mean revolutionary Nationalism, interchangeably. If it were only for Communism, this fright and hatred of the Nationalist bourgeoisie would not be so remarkable; for, as bourgeoisie they must naturally hate and fear Communism. But, as it is, the object of their fear, hatred and attack is any kind or form of revolution. The Spectre of Communism drives the Indian bourgeoisie into the arms of British imperialism, thus revealing them as enemies of national revolution.

The reference to Gandhi and Nehru as “friends of the British" is neither accidental nor an exaggeration. Had it been so, it should have been repudiated by the persons concerned. On the contrary, before and since the last meeting of the National Congress, both of them made statements which add a touch of authority to the reference made by the Liberal journal.

A few days after the National Congress had very reluctantly endorsed his compromise resolution on the question of British connection, Gandhi categorically stated to the Press: “My position is very clear. To me Dominion Status means independence. Others have been led, through suspicion of Britain’s good faith, to make a distinction between the two." (The Englishman, Calcutta.) Here Gandhi makes a declaration of his belief in Britain’s good faith. In other words, he is “a friend of the British" as the Liberal journal calls him. One cannot he a friend of the British without automatically being an enemy of the forces antag¬onistic to British domination. So, Gandhi also is opposed to national revolution, and will denounce any revolutionary struggle as a Communist menace in a critical moment. As regards Motilal Nehru, there is less doubt on this score. The pseudo-Danton of India will not need a guillotine for political elimination, is soon as some real Jacobins appear on the scene. A full-bloodied Girondin, he will quickly pass over to his native camp and, true to his class, will fight the revolution.

But let us still see what the out-spoken representatives of the Nationalist bourgeoisie have to say. The Moslem League, which adhered to the common Nationalist platform embodied in the so-called Nehru Report, held its annual meeting simultaneously with the Congress, in opposition to the officially inspired All-India Moslem Conference. A Maharaja with considerable capital invested in industry was in the chair, and said the following:—

Severance of British connection is a hopelessly unworkable pro¬position. India’s place in the British Commonwealth is a place of undeniable security. Her association with the British Commonwealth is a valuable asset, and it will be folly to destroy this precious connection. There is plenty of room for growth, development and expression of Indian nationalism within the orbit of connection with England.

Abdul Karim, who opened the meeting and proposed the capitalist Maharaja for the chair, said:—

For economic and cultural autonomy Dominion Status will give India all scope we need for the present. It will, therefore, be unwise to fritter away our limited national energy for the chimera of independence.

On the morrow of the annual meeting of the National Congress the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce met, for the first time in its history, in the presence of the Viceroy. The Chairman of the Federation, Sir Purshottamdas Thakurdas, an industrial magnate of Bombay, discoursed on the atmosphere of a threat to law and order, and appealed for legislation checking the revolutionary development of the labour movement. He was one of those who had voted against the anti-Communist Public Safety Bill in the Legislative Assembly. He made a veiled apology for his action, and hinted that when the Government brought up the Bill in the next parliamentary session, the representatives of the big bourgeoisie would vote for it. Obviously, the intervening events testifying to a radicalisation of the Nationalist Movement essentially under the pressure of the independent revolutionary action of the working class, had forced a change in the attitude of the Nationalist bourgeoisie. They are now ready to give up the constitutional opposition to imperialist domination.

The feelings of the Nationalist bourgeoisie are expressed from another side — a very extraordinary one. Reviewing the situation in the light of the latest developments the semi-official organ, Pioneer, writes:—

Gandhi hopes to guide the revolutionaries into more sober and profitable paths — to keep in check more serious developments. Or it may be that he is endeavouring to enable the British Government to make some gestures, to inaugurate some policy, which will stave off an era of political chaos. Neither Gandhi, nor Motilal Nehru, nor any other leader of the older generation wishes a revival of non-co-operation. Neither Calcutta, nor Bombay can afford to face another period of non-co-operation, and if the threat becomes real, they will be the first to demand of the government of India a more peaceful solution. If the governors of India are wise, they will appreciate the position of the moderate politicians ... The moderate men in this country know that if there is no alteration in the policy, their fate will be an unpleasant one.... Let the Viceroy send for Gandhi, Motilal Nehru and Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru (leader of the Liberal Federation) for consultation. If the Viceroy were able to announce to the Legis¬lative Assembly his Majesty the King-Emperor’s personal pledge that Dominion Status will be granted to India, there can be little doubt but that the widespread conservative elements will once, more rally round the government. The benefit would be mutual and immediate. The revolutionary movement in the country will be isolated, and there will be a chance of keeping India in the British Commonwealth.

Calcutta and Bombay, that is, the commercial and industrial princes of those cities, speaking through the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce have clearly demonstrated their dis¬approval of any revolutionary movement, and have indicated to the Viceroy their willingness to co-operate in the suppression of it. And the Viceroy in his speech opening the new session of the Legislative Assembly has reiterated his Britannic Majesty’s pledge to grant India self-government. How soon, he did not say. But certainly not within a year. This he made quite clear. But on the strength of this pledge he trusted that the Assembly would pass the anti-Communist law and possibly other repressive measures directed against the radical elements of the Nationalist Movement. The nervousness of the Nationalist bourgeoisie and their con¬demnation of any revolutionary movement have encouraged imperialism to plan repression of the revolutionary movement. And judged by their utterances, the Nationalist bourgeoisie will support the Government in this plan to prove their fitness to wield greater administrative responsibility.

While the big bourgeoisie are voluntarily offering their services to counter-revolution, the petty bourgeois radicals are afraid of the potentiality of the dynamics of the situation which drive them further than they want to go. A tendency to back-sliding is to be noticed in their ranks. For example, the Forward, organ of the Left Wing, indignantly repudiates the charge made by a die-hard Anglo-Indian journal, that the Congress has abandoned its policy of non-violence and favours revolution. Commenting on the resolution of the Congress the Englishman of Calcutta, correctly observed: “In India, sanctions to enforce a national demand can mean one thing and only one thing — revolution."

The organ of petty bourgeois radicalism, the Forward, of Calcutta, replies as follows:—

On a careful analysis of the apparently innocent word "sanction" our contemporary has discovered that it is dangerous verbal dynamite-capable of blowing up all law and order to pieces.... The news will, of course, come to every Congressman as a surprise, for they are not aware that there has been any change in the Congress creed, or that the Congress had departed from its policy of non-violence, (January 8.)

The next day Forward reverts to the subject, and writes:—

Violence has been rightly ruled out by the Congress. The country has to devise an efficacious remedy on lines which may not bring it into conflict with the so-called laws of the country. That is the economic boycott. (January 9.)

Again the day after:—

When Congressmen talked of "sanction," they could not mean anything more serious than pressure of public opinion, economic boycott or non-payment of taxes. Our contemporary had to admit that none of these suggested methods of enforcing submission from the British Government should carry the implication of violence. (January 10.)

This cowardly attitude of the petty bourgeois radicals is not altogether subjective. It is a reflex of the crystallisation of counter-revolutionary sentiment among the big bourgeoisie. There cannot be any real Jacobinism except under the pressure of the masses, This condition for the bourgeois democratic revolution is maturing in India; but owing to the fact that it happens in an entirely different historical epoch, this condition does not make Jacobins out of the Indian bourgeoisie. On the contrary, it drives them into the camp of counter-revolution.


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