Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Socialism in India

S. M. Y. Sastry


The failure of the second Civil Disobedience movement saw the emergence of Socialism as an active force in Indian political life. While Socialism was not unknown previously, it was only the failure of the national struggle and the consequent disillusionment that gave a fillip to the Socialist forces.

Of the three Socialist groups that are now prominent in the field, the most popular, and that which typifies the emergence of Socialism itself as an active force, is the Congress Socialist Party. While the Right wing entered the Legislature and traveled the path of constitutionalism, the radical elements in the Congress drifted towards Socialism. The conviction not merely that a bare transference of power from the British to the Indian Bureaucracy would not solve India’s problems, but that unless the Congress adopted extreme democratic and ultimate Socialist programme it would not even be able to fight British Imperialism, was responsible for the radical elements embracing Socialism. The Socialist Party that was formed was intimately connected with, and grew out of, the national movement, and represented the radical reaction to the conservative-political and reactionary-social policy of the dominant Right wing Congress group; and the name, the Congress Socialist Party, signifies this. Its intimate connection with the Congress secured for it a ready platform, while the disillusionment after the Civil Disobedience movement and the economic distress of the Depression gave it a sympathetic audience. The appeal of the C. S. P. has, from the beginning, been not to the working class so much as to the bourgeois and petty bourgeois intellectuals who had been turning more and more political-minded. It may be mentioned in this connection that the attempt to organise the Kisans under the C S. P. banner was not a great success.

The Congress Socialist Party claims to be a Marxist revolutionary party. While theoretically proclaiming that "any attempt to drive a hard and fast demarcation between the Nationalist and Socialist Revolutions in India was wrong in principle and misleading in practice," it was driven times out of number, under pressure, to declare that Socialism was not the immediate practical issue. The present condition in India not being ripe for an immediate Socialist Revolution–the primary task being the Nationalist Revolution–its declared immediate function has come to be an intensification of the anti-Imperialist fight. In practice, its main characteristics have been the attempt to check the drift into constitutionalism and into the acceptance of gradualism in principle. For the present, its Socialist activities have been mainly confined to the realm of propaganda. The C. S. P. believes that the "spread of the Socialist consciousness and organisation among the masses not only has not weakened the movement for genuine national independence but has strengthened it." The ultimate ideal of the C. S. P. is to make Socialism the accepted creed of the Congress itself. In the realm of propaganda it was significantly successful, forcing its attention on the people and making Socialism popular, with its demonstrations and slogans. Its work has been, however, more spectacular than solid.

If the C. S. P. has been the most popular, the Communist Party is undoubtedly the oldest Socialist group in India. The Communist Party of India, as elsewhere, depended upon, and grew out of, the working class movement. Being attached to the International, which dictated its policy down to details, its theoretical approach and line of activity were determined not with particular reference to Indian conditions but on a theoretical appreciation of general considerations. According to the view then prevailing, a purely national movement drawing its support from all classes–especially the bourgeoisie–was a taboo to the Communists. No differentiation was made between the Imperialist exploiters and the bourgeois exploited, since these in turn, after the capture of power, would exploit the working class. Recognising neither the necessity nor the utility of a Bourgeois Democratic Revolution, they described the national struggle as a squabble for sharing spoils. The working class was consciously prevented from participating in the national struggle even at the height of the Civil Disobedience movements, on the assumption that any help rendered in the struggle would only be forging their own fetters. Holding any collaboration with the Congress to be a betrayal of the working class, not merely did the Communists keep aloof from the national struggle but actually acted as a hindrance by opposing it. The overthrow of Imperialism was held to be conditional upon the transformation of the Indian Revolution from being National Democratic to being Proletarian Socialist. And, as a proletarian party, the C. P. was actively working for the capture of power by, and the establishment of the dictatorship of, the proletariat. The destruction of the National Congress itself–a bourgeois organisation–became a condition precedent to a proper fight with Imperialism. The result was that as a political force the Communists were absolutely negligible.

Nor was Communism strong enough even as a working class movement. The Indian working class itself is an insignificant minority of the population. Even they are not completely proletarionised, since most of them retain their connection with the village and agriculture. As such, the working class was not much drawn towards Communism. The conditions in India prevented Communism from being a powerful working class movement, while the mistaken and suicidal policy of the C. P. prevented it from having any contact with the new life that was animating India.

The emergence of aggressive Fascism, especially in Germany, resulted in Socialism going defensive. All talk of Proletarian Revolutions being given up, effort was directed towards defending the status quo. Hence were hastily developed the theory and tactics of the United Front. The Seventh World Conference therefore thought fit to revise the mistaken policy of damning the Congress and keeping aloof from the national struggle. The Congress was recognised to be the main organisation of the anti-Imperialist fight. The necessity of a National Bourgeois Democratic Revolution, likewise, was appreciated; active collaboration with the Congress was visualised. However, the change came too late. The C. P. having been declared illegal in 1934, the ban still remained in force. While individual Communists have joined the Congress, they are not in a position to organise separately and openly with their new orientation. The change of tactics has, however, proved in practice to be only skin deep. Being a dictation from above, its execution has been very uneven and irregular. The setting up of a separate working class candidate against a Congress candidate in the Bombay Assembly elections and the organisation of the strike against the Trades Disputes Bill are significant evidence of this half-heartedness.

For their Socialistic work, moreover, they had to seek alliance with the C. S. P. which was legal. The organisation of the C. S. P. was originally hailed with scorn and abuse by the C. P., but, later, when its utility as a cover for the activities of the C. P. was perceived, there was a sudden reversal of the estimate. The C. S. P. was admitted to be a necessity, and was assigned a useful function. The C. S. P., on its side, in its anxiety to absorb all the Socialist groups, agreed to admit the Communists into the party. But the same separatist tendency that was in evidence in its collaboration with the Congress persisted here also–sometimes in an even more aggravated form. The C. S. P. executive was flooded with complaints about friction in work and about deviations from the official policy, carried on deliberately by the Communists. The Communists moreover were becoming responsible for premature conflicts between the Congress and the C. S. P. As this was costing the C. S. P. not a little of the popularity it had acquired, it awoke to the danger of the ‘Reds’, and decided to expel them. Prohibited, from entering the C. S. P., the Communists have gradually agreed to all the demands of C. S. P. including its claims to be considered a Marxist revolutionary party. The leaders of the C. S. P., not yet convinced of the genuineness of the repentance, have not yet conceded the request for re-admission.

The Communists at the present time therefore have no legal organisation of their own. They have not yet acquired the habit of using the Congress as the platform for their nationalist activities, while their alliance with the C. S. P. still remains unsettled. They are thus prevented from giving wide currency to their changed beliefs.

The third and latest of the Socialist groups is the Royist group. The Royists, like Gandhists, represent more a personal following than a group separated by deep ideological differences Endowed with a personality possessed by none in the Communist and C. S. P. folds, Roy has been able to attract a devoted following. Royism represents the views held by Roy and dictated to his followers. This personal factor explains the greater cohesion of the Royists, notwithstanding the lack of a formal organisation.

From the Communists, Roy, at the present time, is divided only by historical considerations. At a time when the Communist Party was ardently planning for a Proletarian Revolution in India, Roy pointed out the absurdity of it all and declared himself for a Democratic Revolution. As a consequence, Roy was expelled from the Communist Party, and even when Communists have changed almost all their opinions, for doubting which Roy had been expelled, the ban still remains. Roy, to the Communists, is a renegade and an opportunist. The real fact is that Roy is too great a personality to be submerged in the official Communist Party: when he could not lead, he had to leave.

To the C. S. P. he was nearer than the C. P. When the ‘Reds’ were pouring scorn on the C. S. P., Royists took a prominent part in the organisation and other activities of the C. S. P. But Roy, having come to the conclusion that a Socialist party within the Congress would be a drag not merely on the national movement but also on the full possibilities of developing revolutionary Socialism, advised his followers to abandon the C. S. P. Ever since, Royists have remained a distinct group.

Roy declares himself to be a Communist who has adopted the particular tactics of whole-heartedly working for the National Democratic Revolution, owing to the peculiar conditions in India. For, according to his thesis, a Democratic Revolution is long overdue. What is more important, the anti-Imperial fight would not succeed until the fight was radicalised and democratised. Since the immediate objective is the National Democratic Revolution, which is not strictly the function of the working class, he is opposed to pushing socialism to the forefront at the present juncture. What is required, however, is a consolidation of the radical elements in the national movement and their collaboration in challenging the Right wing conservative elements qua nationalists. Roy recognises the Congress as the organisation of the anti-Imperialist struggle. His present endeavours are directed towards an intensification of that struggle. Any tendency towards weakening the Congress is to be combated. His opposition to collective affiliation is precisely based on this consideration–that it would lead to a conversion of the Congress into a loose, federal organisation and thus weaken it.

Roy at the present time is a nationalist, pure and simple, speaking in Communist phraseology. His Communist talk prevents his being absorbed in the official nationalist ranks, and he is regarded with a great deal of suspicion, even the genuineness of his nationalist sentiment being doubted. He is, on the other hand, not regarded as a good Socialist by certain Left-wingers, since not merely tactically but ideologically too he places the National Democratic Bourgeois Revolution and the Congress in the forefront.


While it is admitted on all hands that the urgent necessity and the immediate task is checking the drift towards constitutionalism and developing the revolutionary spirit by radicalising the Congress, the disunity in the Leftist forces has been preventing a proper realisation of this. The Right has not merely been having its way in every matter, but, taking advantage of Left disunity, has gone on the offensive. Even in the face of such a danger, the Leftists are not able to sink all their differences.

It is curious to note that there is no organised reformist Socialist party in India, even the C. S. P. swearing by revolutionary Marxism. Further, all the groups, including the Communists, are agreed that the immediate task is not the establishment of a Socialist Society but only achieving the Bourgeois Democratic Revolution. This agreement on fundamentals should have paved the way for unity, notwithstanding differences in detail and tactics. The disunity apparently is not wholly dictated by such differences.

At the present moment, for example, there are no vital differences between the Royist and the Communist groups. According to the official spokesman of the Royist group, the fundamental difference is only this: while Royists regard the Congress as the organisation of the masses, as the organisation of the revolutionary struggle, and as the United National Front and stand for transforming the local Congress Committees into organs of power, the Communists regard the Congress as one of the–albeit the most important of the–organs of revolutionary struggle, and pin their faith more to the organisation of the masses outside the Congress than to their integration within the Congress. The result is that the Communists are not as ardent Congressmen as Royists. From this fundamental difference flow all the minor deviations, like the views on collective affiliation and the role to be played by the working class in the revolutionary struggle (Roy holding that the leadership would be a multi-class one under the hegemony of the proletariat while the Communists, having abandoned the idea of an immediate dictatorship of the proletariat, still cling to the idea of a pure working class leadership,) and the role of the Constituent Assembly. The conception of a Constituent Assembly, being multi-class, was virulently opposed by the Communists till recently. Nevertheless, they have now come to heartily endorse the slogan, though the revolutionary import given to it is not precisely the same as given by Roy.

The fundamental difference itself not being unbridgeable, it is a pity that the two groups cannot sink their minor differences and work together. Even when views and tactics happen to coincide, the two sides are not able to forget the historical enmity and past bitterness.

If the Royists are not able to work in co-operation with the Communists owing to historical reasons, they are not able to join hands with the C. S. P. owing to profound differences. While the C. S. P. conceives itself to be a Marxist revolutionary party and arrogates to itself the function of leading the radical forces, Roy attacks the utility of the very existence of the party itself. Since any party organised within the Congress weakens the Congress, he is for the liquidation of the party. Going a step farther, holding the existence of the C. S. P. to be mischievous, he has been delivering the blow for its destruction. Where such a chasm separates, where the very existence of the party is attacked, no co-operation is possible. The result is that the C. S. P. works in greater co-operation with the Right wing, which at least tolerates its existence, than with the Royists.

If co-operation between the Royists and the other groups has thus not been possible, prospects of co-operation between the Communists and the C. S. P. are not much more encouraging. Expelled from the C. S. P., the Communists have nevertheless been making strenuous efforts to achieve close unity with the C. S. P. Denied a legal organisation, the Communists are apparently very anxious to join the C. S. P. and not merely to work in collaboration with it. They proclaim, "The Congress Socialists and the Communists are not mutually antagonistic but really complementary to each other: they together are the Socialist movement in India, one representing the nationalist and the other representing the proletarian experience." While the C. S. P. is removed from the working class, which alone ultimately can fight for Socialism, the Communists are not yet able to "break down their isolation and emerge into National Life. Each requires the help of the other." To this end, revising their earlier view that the C. S. P. could not be tolerated as a Marxist revolutionary party but only as a Left wing federation, they conceded its revolutionary character.

But to the demand that the Communists should be admitted into the party, and to the slogan, "All Socialists within the C. S. P," the C. S. P. has not been able to agree. For, according to self-estimation, the C. S. P. being a revolutionary party must "act as a homogeneous team, its members thinking the same way, speaking with one voice. Such a party must develop its discipline to the highest levels." And hence it cannot admit all groups. This particular conception of the role of the C. S. P., while preventing the organisational unity of the two parties, ought not to prevent collaboration of the two groups as individual units. Nevertheless, whole-hearted collaboration has not been forthcoming.

Notwithstanding the apparent change of attitude, the Communist Party can never fully agree to the pretensions of the C. S. P. to being a revolutionary Marxist party. The aim of a revolutionary Marxist party is to establish Socialism, and according to theory and practice, it is, and can be, done only under the leadership of the working class. As a fact, it is the Communists that are in close contact with the working class and not the C. S. P. In any ultimate effort at establishing Socialism, it is the working class, and therefore the Communists, that must lead the Revolution. The existence of a rival Marxist party can never be tolerated. Meanwhile, however, the question not being one of establishing a Socialist Society, the utility and the national revolutionary character of the C. S. P. is admitted. This is not proving sufficient to please the C. S. P. which regards itself as a revolutionary Socialist party charged with the function of establishing, and possessed of the power to establish, the Socialist State. This basic rivalry, notwithstanding its present irrelevancy, stands in the way of active collaboration.

A second consideration that seems to be dividing the two groups is the attitude to be adopted towards Russia. "In the present international situation there is not, nor can there be, any other more certain criterion than one’s attitude towards the Soviet Union in determining who is the friend and who is the enemy of the cause of the working class and Socialism. The touchstone in checking the sincerity and honesty of every individual, active in the working class party and organisation of the working people is the attitude towards the great land of Socialism." This is the thesis put forward by Com. Demitrov. To this Masani and a large section of the C. S. P., represented by him, take objection. "To say that we should look upon it as one of the important bulwarks of Socialist forces throughout the world; to say that we follow the Soviet experiment with the utmost sympathy; to say that we should rally to the defence of the peoples of the U. S. S. R. in the event of war–these are the merest common-places to which every Socialist will subscribe. Must we also consider it our duty to endorse each and every act of the Soviet Government or the Communist Party of Russia? Is it our duty to smother all criticism and give undivided support?"

That this consideration should stand in the way of Leftist unity in India significantly reveals the irrelevant and academical factors that have been disrupting the radical forces. A difference on any point arising out of actual Indian conditions is understandable. But bitterness over such a consideration is meaningless. For, so long as the working class and the radical elements in the country pledge their ultimate support, the day to day activities of the Russian Government need neither interest us nor trouble us. While we retain independence to criticise even our Congress Ministries, and while we do not consider mere criticism a betrayal, it would be preposterous to require uncritical support to each and every act of the Soviet Union. Further, whatever be the utility of this test in countries where the working class can exercise direct pressure on their Governments, this is entirely out of place in India where the whole nationalist movement, not to speak of the working class, is not able to bring sufficient pressure on the ruling Imperialist Government. Unless differences on such irrelevant counts are avoided or, where they are inevitable, slurred over, the Left forces can never achieve unity. These internal squabbles prevent the radical forces from challenging the Right wing successfully.


The essence of Socialism is the establishment of a classless Society consequent on the abolition of private property in the means of production, by the proletariat, after the capture of power. There was a time, not far past, when the Communists claimed that the immediate task of revolutionary Marxists was the establishment of Socialism. That conception of the Socialist role is now given up. What then is the function of Socialists?

It is sometimes argued that the present struggle should b viewed from a Socialist standpoint. Socialism, being the establishment of a particular Society by a particular class after the capture of power, requires a special technique. To suggest that the national struggle should be viewed from that standpoint is as erroneous as the conception of an immediate establishment of Socialism.

What exactly is the interest of the Socialist in the national struggle? The Socialist is interested in the national struggle precisely because it is only the National Bourgeois Revolution that establishes conditions in which it will be possible for the "toiling masses to establish a Socialist Society." Further, as the destroyers of Imperialist exploitation everywhere, they present the most unbending and uncompromising opposition to Imperialism.

The Congress being a political organisation interested in the transference of power from British to Indian hands, it could be assumed that the Congress has no particular creed or conception regarding any particular organisation of Society. Nevertheless, it is not quite true to say that the Congress has n particular preference for any form of Society. Under the inspiration and the influence of Gandhiji, the Congress, in the shape of Khadi and Village Industries, is being pressed more and more to commit itself to one particular kind of social organisation. So long as there is no official Congress view as regards the type of Society to be visualised, it is possible for all creeds to unite on the political platform and press their respective views about social structure outside the Congress. But Gandhiji’s official pressure in favour of one particular form of Society, which is primitive and reactionary, makes it impossible for a truce about social structure to be observed within the Congress. It is urgently necessary therefore to combat the drift of many in the Congress under the influence of Gandhiji into accepting a reactionary social structure. It is not sufficient to fight for democracy within the Congress. Propagandist Socialism has been able to achieve this to a large extent, and perhaps this explains the increasing aggressiveness and the greater offensive from Gandhiji, or at any rate from certain Gandhists. The talk about Socialism, notwithstanding its immediate irrelevancy, has and does serve, a useful purpose. Of course, mere propaganda carries a movement nowhere; some organisation must take advantage to utilise the favourable atmosphere for organising a strong party for the promotion of Socialism. The propaganda part of the programme has been ably done by the C. S. P.; but its being within the Congress prevents, notwithstanding its talk of being a revolutionary party its organising a really revolutionary party.

It is becoming increasingly evident that the Right and the Left wings are drifting more and more apart. The drift is not due to differences in the political field mainly, but due to a premature projection of social questions. The Right will be able to consolidate its position in the present circumstances and deliver the offensive so long as the conflict is wrongly focussed on other questions. It is imperatively necessary to check the drift into conservative and reactionary gradualism: to shift the fight on to the nationalist plane and keep it there.

The position of the C. S. P., which is being supported organisationally by the Communists, is of special interest. Faced with a demand for the inclusion of all Socialists within the C. S. P. Masani, in his Presidential Address (Lahore Conference) argued, "In a revolutionary party, there is no room for internal conflicts that inevitably lead to paralysis and stagnation. The C. S. P. is not a platform for the United Front. Its discipline must be developed to the highest levels." The ‘Congress Socialist’, editorially commenting on the refusal for inclusion of the Communists, declares, "The Conference repelled the idea that one individual can at the same time be a loyal member of two political parties."

This raises the question about the proper function of the Congress. It is admitted that the present fight is an anti-Imperialist one, and further that the fighting organisation is the Congress. According to the test laid down by President Masani and the C. S. P. organ, the ‘Congress Socialist,’ it is of utmost importance for the fighting efficiency of the Congress that it must be a homogeneous body. Gandhiji, accused of authoritarianism, has reminded his critics of the fact that the Congress was the fighting instrument opposed to one of the mightiest of Imperialisms and as such its discipline should be the strictest. Unless the C. S. P, revises its opinion about the Congress being the revolutionary organisation in the national struggle, it must concede the need for discipline in the Congress ranks. The statement therefore that the Congress ‘is the anti-Imperialist United Front,’ implying that it can be used as a loose federation, cuts at the root of their own admission. If it is not possible for one individual to be a loyal member of two political parties at the same time, viz., the C. P. and the C. S. P., it is equally not possible to be a loyal member of the Congress and of the C. S. P. So long as the immediate task is the National Revolution, the superior necessity of having discipline within the Congress rather than discipline within the C. S. P. must be recognised. The development of discipline by a party within the Congress is fatal to the discipline of the Congress itself. It appears to be necessary therefore that the C. S. P. should come out of the Congress organisation, if it does not want to divert the conflict into dubious, channels.

Another consideration, too, supports this conclusion. A coalition can never deliver the attack: the experience of United Front movements the world over has proved that, even as a defence, a coalition is hard to sustain. The Congress is to deliver attack against one of the mightiest and craftiest of Imperialisms. To attempt to reduce the fighting instrument to a coalition or loose federation of organisations with separate disciplines is suicidal.

To combat the reactionary-social and conservative-gradualist tendencies is an urgent necessity. While the former is done by Socialist propaganda, the latter must be done on the nationalist plane. Dragging Socialism on to the national platform would only result in confusing the issue, creating premature conflicts and playing precipitately into the hands of reactionary Right-wingers.

One can politically be a revolutionary without being a Socialist. There were Nationalist Revolutions before. The effort in the national field must be to rouse the revolutionary consciousness of the nationalist sentiment and not to side-track the issue with loose talk about the Socialist Revolution.

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