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Fourth International, October 1946


K. Tilak

Indian Correspondence


From Fourth International, October 1946, Vol.7 No.10, pp.310-312.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The Congress leaders from the time of their release from prison last year have made clear that they are ready to compromise with British imperialism. Their present attitude in the recently concluded Cabinet Mission negotiations shows clearly that the Indian bourgeoisie are no longer thinking in terms of “struggle” but only of settlement with British imperialism.

The proposals of the Cabinet Mission are both of a long-term and short-term character. The long-term proposals claim to provide machinery by which India can frame its own constitution and advance peacefully to independence. The reality, however, is quite otherwise. In the first place the so-called Constituent Assembly (in reality a constitution-drafting body) is not to be chosen by direct, universal franchise. It is to be a body chosen by indirect and very limited franchise. In fact, it is to be chosen by the members of the present provincial legislatures, who were elected at the February-March 1946 elections on quite other issues and not at all on the question of election for a constituent assembly. Secondly, the Indian Native States (which receive a substantial representation) are to be represented by the nominees of the autocratic Princes and not by representative selected by the States’ subjects. Thirdly, the concessions that have been made to satisfy the Moslem League (a weak centre, two sub-federations comprising the Moslem majority provinces, and the priviso that nothing can be passed in the “Constituent Assembly” on any subject of major communal importance without the assent of a majority of the two major communities – Hindus and Moslems) simply invite a breakdown at any stage of the proceedings of this unique “Constituent Assembly.” And when one considers that the Moslem League is a party of feudalists who have always in practice been the servitors of the imperialists, it is not difficult to foretell that the scheme is bound to flounder.

In the event that a miracle takes place and the scheme goes through somehow, the British imperialists are prepared for this eventuality too. The decisions of the “Constituent Assembly” will have no sanction, the constitution it works out will have no force, until the Constituent Assembly enters into a Treaty with the British Government. As to what the terms of this treaty will be, no one seems to have even inquired. But it is safe to assume that they will be such as to nullify those clauses of the constitution prepared by the Constituent Assembly as would confer any real power on the Indian people. It is noteworthy that this treaty will be concluded while British troops are in occupation of India and will bear all the hall-marks of a “forced treaty.”

The Congress has accepted these long-term proposals. It has, in its usual demagogic fashion, not failed to criticize the undesirable features of the proposals, but this has not prevented its acceptance. The Congress is thus doing its best to lull the people into the false belief that independence is around the corner, and that a peaceful transfer of power is in the offing (which means, of course, that any struggle or preparations for it become unnecessary!).

The short-term or interim proposals are meant to cover the period between now and when the treaty is concluded. These proposals are for the formation of an Interim Government composed of the representatives of the main parties (Congress and the Moslem League). This Interim Government, however, would have no real power, since the Viceroy’s power of veto (which includes not only the power to disallow but also to initiate) continues. Thus, participation by Congress in this fake government would serve little purpose other than providing the Viceroy’s government with a popular facade with which to cover its real imperialist character.

The Congress has rejected these interim government proposals. Not, however, for any of the reasons mentioned above, but because it was unable to secure the inclusion of a Nationalist Moslem nominee of Congress due to the objections of Mr. Jinnah, the President of the Moslem League, who claims his organization has the sole right to represent Moslems. If not for this difficulty, Congress was prepared to accept the interim proposals and join an Interim Government, thus completing its identification with the system of imperialist administration of India. [Since this report was written, the Moslem League has withdrawn, and an interim government has been formed, headed by the Congress leaders. – ed.] For, it should be remembered that Congress is in office today in seven provinces, loyally carrying out the administration for the British masters. These ministries have already proven themselves staunch protectors of “law and order.” Strikes, for which the prescribed notice is not given, are illegal. The strikers are arrested and sentenced. Even demonstrations are quite often banned and demonstrators prosecuted. The Madras Congress Government recently arrested twenty people for participating in protest demonstrations against the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru by the Kashmir State authorities!

It should be noted that Congress is compromising with British imperialism precisely at a time when the mass mood is high. The masses have shown that they are prepared to take the path of struggle without the encouragement of, and even in spite of, their leaders. This was clear in the Calcutta demonstrations for the release of the Indian National Army prisoners. These demonstrations were composed mainly of the petty bourgeoisie and revealed the extent of discontent in their ranks. The petty bourgeoisie, however, are incapable (as the August 1942 struggle amply proved) of carrying on any sustained struggle against the imperialists without the leadership, either of the bourgeoisie or of the working class. Therefore, from our point of view, much more important than the Calcutta demonstrations, was the strike in Bombay in aid of the Royal Indian Navy mutineers. The Bombay workers, perhaps the most advanced in India, went on what was practically a general strike, with demonstrations and clashes with police and military, in support of the mutinous Indian sailors. The small Trotskyist group in Bombay was the first to call for the general strike. They plastered a section of the working class area with posters calling for strike in support of the naval ratings, and led a demonstration in the night, which was successful in calling out the night-shift workers in several mills. The Stalinists came out in support in the morning. The most significant fact about the Bombay events is that they took place in open defiance of the Congress leadership.

The situation, was pregnant with possibilities. This was a time when the RAF strikes were just over, Indian naval ratings were striking all over India in sympathy, and there was wide support for the Indian sailors in the Indian army. But further development of the struggle was effectively stopped by the intervention of Patel, one of the Congress leaders, on whose advice the ratings surrendered. His guarantees of “no victimization,” of course, proved to be worthless.

The Bombay incident is important for two reasons. First, it shows the growing consciousness of the masses. The Bombay workers struck on a major political question. In August 1942 they had supported the Congress. Now they supported the sailors. Secondly, the action has built a bond between the Indian workers and sailors (and indirectly with the soldiers too) which will be of immense value in the future when the masses will need the active support of the armed forces in their struggle against imperialism.

It is not, of course, entirely accidental that the masses are showing such militancy at a time when the bourgeoisie is dropping its opposition of the war days and embarking on a course of collaboration with British imperialism. The Indian bourgeoisie does not want any kind of mass struggle against imperialism at any time which it does not control and which it cannot stop. The recent manifestations of mass militancy, and particularly the working class action in Bombay, only reinforce the determination of Congress to come to a settlement with the imperialists. The alternative, a struggle – before which the struggle of August 1942 will pale into insignificance – is like a nightmare to them. They are doing their best to pacify the masses by deceiving them with the propaganda that independence is not far off, etc. And Congress influence is so great at the moment that it has succeeded in holding the masses back from action.

But it has not succeeded in holding back the workers from action on economic demands. This year has seen a series of widespread working class struggles for higher wages, against dismissals, etc., in every part of India. Congress efforts to throttle these struggles have generally failed. (The only exception is the calling off of the All-India Railway General Strike, which was scheduled for June 27.) The Indian trade union movement, though it was never strong, is now definitely on the up-grade. Large sections of hitherto unorganized workers are now joining the unions.

The Communist Party of India, taking advantage of the illegalization of other parties and its own new-found legality, and the patronage of the imperialist government during the war years, built up an efficient organization throughout India as well as a powerful position in the trade union movement. Today, however, it is paying the price for the means it employed to secure these gains. Throughout India there is a wave of hostility against the Stalinists for their support of the imperialist war, and their opposition to the August 1942 struggle. This intense hostility is most widespread among the petty bourgeoisie. It is also true that the Congress leaders attempt to use it against Communism and the “internationalists,” including the Trotskyist. But it cannot be gainsaid that the deep anti-Communist Party feeling springs from hatred of British imperialism and those who acted as its agents in 1942. (Sellers of our literature at meetings attended by predominantly petty bourgeois crowds in Calcutta, for instance, are often questioned as to whether the Literature is “Communist.” It is only by saying that it is “not Stalinist” or saying that it is “Trotskyist” that they are able to dispose of them!) If the situation of the Stalinists among the petty bourgeoisie is hopeless, their situation among the workers is only a little better. The more politically minded layers of the working class have left them. But backward workers, who were unionized by the Stalinists during the war, still support: them. The Stalinists have ceased having any widespread political influence anywhere. They have degenerated into a set of trade union bureaucrats with a more or less trade union following.

Even here, they are coming into competition with the Congress, which has, for its own nefarious purposes, entered the trade union field through an organization known as the Hindustan Mazdoor Sevak Sangh (Indian Workers Service League). The unions of the HMSS are based on class-collaboration, openly preach non-violence, and are in reality an instrument for the twin object of betraying the workers to the capitalists in their day-to-day struggle and for bringing the workers under the politicaI influence of the bourgeois Congress. The Trotskyist are certain to find themselves in the position of defending unions, even though they are bureaucratically controlled by the Stalinists, against the menace of the HMSS.

The Trotskyist organization has, in the last few months, for the first time in its brief history, found opportunities for open work. In particular, it has found opportunities to enter the trade union field. We have already registered substantial gains ... The conclusion is perhaps justified that the few advances are likeIy to be only the first gains in the period we have just entered – a period in which the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India for the first time has a real chance to grow.

June 29, 1946

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Last updated on 11.2.2009